Smoke Without the Fire: Cooking With Lapsang Souchong

Plume of smoke in front of a dark background

When I think of Lapsang Souchong, the famous smoked tea of Fujian, China, usually the fireplace is at a full roar, lending its glow to a book I am reading, or it’s rainy or cold (which for southern California is a rarity).  But, in fact, this tea is truly a tea for all seasons and all places.  Whether brewed and served hot in winter, cold steeped for a summery iced refreshment, or used as an all-seasons marinade and sauce base for an entree, it’s a tea worth cultivating a taste for and seeking out in its top-quality versions. 

The best ones, withered over burning pine boughs and then dried, pan fired, and rolled, are subtly smoky with a mellow, almost sweet edge.  Lesser versions can taste unpleasantly of burning tires, so sample widely to find the best quality and the degree of smokiness that suits your taste.  The subtler ones are what I reach for, lending their intriguing smoke to proteins from pork and salmon to chicken and duck, without involving the fuss of outdoor grilling.

Here’s how to enjoy it beyond the China cup, as I did recently for a pork tenderloin dish when I used the tea in three ways: first, as a background flavor note to bring the meat extra succulence; next, as a flavor for the liquid in which large prunes were plumped, and lastly, as a means of deglazing the pan in which the meat had been braised, lending its pleasant smokiness to the sauce.

Lapsang Souchong Tea-Smoked Pork Tenderloin with Tea-Plumped Prunes

Serves 2
The recipe may be increased simply by doubling, tripling, or multiplying the ingredients by any factor to produce the desired yield.

Prepping the Meat

  • 22 grams medium smoky Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (premium whole leaf tea is best here)
  • 16 ounces water
  • 1 T. sea salt
  • 2 T. granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces of pork tenderloin
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Brew the tea in water, heated to just under the boil.  Allow it to steep for approximately 5 minutes.  Pass the tea through a fine meshed sieve and allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Place the meat into a non-reactive 2-quart bowl.  Pour the cooled tea over it.  Add the salt and sugar and stir to dissolve.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours.  Remove from the brine, discard the brine, and dry off the meat with absorbent paper toweling.  Season generously with the black pepper.  The meat will have sufficient salt from the brine.
Sliced pork tenderloin with a fruit compote

Making the Tea-Plumped Prunes

  • 8 large moist prunes, pitted
  • 12 grams medium smoky Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
  • 1 c. water
  1. Brew the tea in water heated to just below boiling.  Sieve out the leaves and then pour the resulting liquid into a small heavy saucepan.
  2. Add the prunes and simmer over a low heat until the prunes have softened and absorbed some of the tea.  Remove the prunes from the tea and set aside the cooking liquid to use in finishing the pork, below.

Note: In-season tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced horizontally across the cavity where the core was, into ½-inch-thick rounds, may be substituted for the prunes.

Cooking the Pork

  • Boneless pork tenderloin, removed from the brine and well-dried
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. brown sugar
  • Salt, as needed, if needed
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan. Add the meat and brown evenly on all sides, turning two or three times.
  2. Add the reserved liquid from the prunes and the brown sugar and cook the meat, covered, over a low heat, until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. (digital thermometer with a probe is indispensable here).
  3. Once done, remove the meat to a cutting board and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes, covered, until ready to serve.
  4. In the meantime, cook the pan liquids to reduce to a coating consistency.  Taste for salt and add if needed.  Keep the sauce warm.
  5. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the pork into ½-inch-thick medallions. Place on warmed serving plates, surround with the tea-plumped prunes, and pour the reduced pan juices over all. Serve immediately.

This article has been reformatted and updated from the original September 2009 publication.

Photo “Incense smoke against a black sky” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Vanessa Pike-Russell and is being posted unaltered (source)

Photo “Pork Tenderloin with Tomato-Peach Compote” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer “” and is being posted unaltered (source)