I still remember the first time I tasted lapsang souchong tea. While I had heard of it when I was attending University, it was never available in the small college town I lived in, nor could I find it in the nearest city. It wasn’t until I moved back to the Portland, Oregon area that I would finally get the opportunity.
I was out for brunch (my absolute favorite meal) with some of my friends, and the trendy little restaurant had started out its existence as a teahouse. Said teahouse had since expanded to include food and cocktails in order to attract the finicky niche of brunch crowds in foodie-haven Portland. Yet they remembered their humble teahouse roots enough that you can still get a delicious loose tea by the pot, and I have never once had them bring me over-steeped tea! But I digress. The very first time that I went to that restaurant, I ordered a pot of lapsang souchong and found it just as magical as I had always imagined.
I was later able to find loose lapsang: Initially at the local Asian supermarket and then later again at a natural foods market. It’s one tea that I absolutely always have in my cupboard, and also one that I make a specific point of introducing to unsuspecting people.
My husband, for example, is a coffee drinker and a smoker. As such, he has neither the palate for delicate green or white teas nor interest in kung fu-prepared teas of any kind. When I make tea for him, it always has some kind of flavoring and I add some organic, local honey. The only exception is lapsang. With its robust smokiness, so long as I use enough tea for it to have a strong flavor it is the one tea that my husband will drink with me straight.
Fast forward to this most recent New Year’s Eve. My husband and I unexpectedly had two of his friends stop by, each with their significant other in tow. It turned into an impromptu low-key New Year’s party. While trying to fulfill my duties as hostess, I found myself asking a lady what she would like to drink. She demurred on alcohol, so I was left with the truth: “I think we have some soft drinks. There’s milk? But really, all I ever drink is water, tea, and occasionally a little wine.” Her eyes brightened at the mention of tea, so I asked what she liked. While looking through my tea cupboard for oolong I came across my tin of lapsang and offhandedly inquired if she had ever tried it. Unsurprisingly (in my experience) she had never even heard of it, so I opened the tin and offered her a sniff. She found the fragrance so intriguing that I ended up making a whole pot in my tetsu kyusu, setting it up on its matching chafing dish (hot tea for hours!) and arranging my four cups and saucers in a row in front.
Over the course of the evening, every guest ended up sampling the lapsang.
Every guest was very pleasantly surprised.
So I got the unexpected pleasure of ringing in the new year by spreading the love of tea! Who could ask for more?