If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you probably remember that I used to be the special events manager for an Appalachian tea house. If you haven’t been following this blog for a long time, allow me to tell you more: I used to be the special events manager for an Appalachian tea house. Though I’ve always liked tea and sought out the good stuff (RIP Clarinda’s Tea Room, stalwart of the Southern Indiana tea scene in the early ’90s), what I know about tea comes from this period of my life.
The funny thing about working in tea is that people buy you tea as a present because they know you like it. What people perhaps do not consider is the sheer amount of free tea you receive throughout the course of your day. It’s a lot. Like, a whole lot. So much tea you cannot even imagine. For context: I quit Hillbilly Tea to become a writer and editor in 2013 and I still discover little vacuum-sealed baggies of dried leaves every time I reorganize my kitchen.
So imagine my delight when I found my very favorite tea from the shop sealed in tin in a box I recently unpacked! Smoked, this week’s tea, is a lapsang souchong that I adore.
For a little context, lapsang souchong is made from leaves that are further away from the most delicate pekoe. The pekoe is very sexy and desirable; if you think about tea production as the 1985 John Hughes’ classic The Breakfast Club, this part of the plant is Molly Ringwald. It’s a given that they are high-value and super great.
Traditionally, the coarser leaves that become lapsang souchong are smoked as a makeover so that you’ll realize that oh my god, it turns out Ally Sheedy was unbelievably hot all along and she was right here the whole time, Emilio. I will probably revisit this metaphor at a later date to explain tissanes in the context of Judd Nelson and Michael Anthony Hall, so please keep this front of mind.
Smoked has a special place in my heart because the nose on it is reminiscent of the bonfires I went to in high school, almost eerily so. Opening the container gives you an immediate “field party” hit. It has a nice amber color when you brew it, but I do not find that it holds up well to multiple rounds of hot water. Lapsang souchong is wonderful to drink straight, but my preferred preparation for it this time of year is this:
Pour 8 ounces of hot water onto 1 teaspoon of Smoked tea leaves. Let it steep for 2-3 minutes. While the tea leaves hang out in their hot tub, get a mason jar* and pour about a tablespoon of sorghum into the bottom. Next, pour in about 4 ounces of whole milk**. Don’t stir! After the tea is ready, remove the leaves and pour the tea into the mason jar. It’ll make a stack for a second or two, which is very pretty and the entire reason I have instructed you not to stir. Once you’ve marveled at the tea layer cake you’ve created, you may stir. Dump in a shot of bourbon at this juncture if you want to (you want to). Take a good sniff of the campfire smell, stir, and drink immediately.
If you’d like to try Hillbilly Tea’s Smoked, you can buy it for $6/85g. The restaurant closed and reopened once or twice since I’ve left, so I’m not sure if this is exactly the same, but the owner is good at both continuity and selecting tasty products, so I’m willing to guess it’s similar and delicious.
Tried any good tea lately? Have you been to Hillbilly Tea? Got a lapsang souchong to recommend to me? Tell me all about it.
* You do not actually need a mason jar, but 1. it completes your “sixteen in a field” experience and 2. you can look at the cool layers in a mason jar, which you cannot do in a ceramic mug. Dealer’s choice.
** I’m serious, do not substitute something else. I’ve tried every milk-esque product known to man and it’s a bad scene without exception. You might think you know better than me, but friend, you do not.