Because of this quality, lapsang souchong is not for everyone. “I think people who drink it and like it also like very strong coffee,” said Stan Constantine, owner of Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co. Constantine says he prefers his lapsang souchong as a minor player in an Earl Grey blend, and he likes to sip it after dinner.
“We have customers who are absolutely fanatical about it,” said Mike Carter, owner of Alchemy Tea Co. in Annapolis. “It’s definitely a ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ tea.”
There are several stories explaining how the tea leaves originally came to be smoked hundreds of years ago, but this is the most common: A Chinese army unit passing through a village camped out in its tea factory, which was filled with fresh leaves awaiting processing. When the soldiers left and the workers returned, the legend says, there was not enough time to dry the tea the usual way.
So the workers lit open fires of pine wood to speed the drying. Upon taking the tea to market, the new smoky tea created a sensation.
Lapsang souchong’s smokiness makes it an interesting addition to barbecue sauces, marinades and braising liquids. Jonathan Vong, owner of Chocolatea on 39th Street and Truffles and Tea in Cross Keys, has cooked chicken and fish with lapsang souchong, although he says he doesn’t care for it as a beverage.
“It’s not really a popular tea,” said Vong. “A lot of people don’t know about it, and it’s an acquired taste.” Despite its relative obscurity, Vong says he carries a kind of single-origin lapsang souchong from Fujian province in China that costs $500 a pound.
Here’s how Vong used the tea to prepare a piece of salmon: He placed a rack on a metal pan and spread some damp lapsang souchong leaves around it. He put a salmon filet on the rack and drizzled some maple syrup and salt over it. Then he wrapped the whole pan in foil and baked it.
A delicious-sounding recipe for Smoky Peanuts, using lapsang souchong and salted cocktail peanuts, can be found at epicurious.com.
Tea-rubbed pork chops
2 teaspoons lapsang souchong tea leaves
1/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons boneless pork chops
>> Grind spices and tea in spice grinder until fine. Rub mixture on both sides of chops and refrigerate for one hour. Bake chops in preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until done.