Drinking a cup of Lapsang souchong tea is like drinking a campfire in the best possible way. It smells like burnt wood, sweet tobacco, and rainy forest, and tastes mellow and mild, without any of the astringent bitterness that many black teas have. Unsurprisingly, it’s frequently compared to scotch, which shares a similarly smoky flavor profile.
As it turns out, there’s a reason why Lapsang souchong and scotch taste similar. When you make tea, you have to dry out the tea leaves using heat in order to prevent them from oxidizing too much. What sets Lapsang souchong apart from other teas is that the leaves are dried over pine smoke, imbuing your cup of tea with a distinctly woody, charred flavor. Similarly, the production process for whiskey begins by drying out the malts or grains that will later be fermented. The malts used in most scotches are dried using peat smoke (this is what gives scotches like Laphroaig and Lagavulin such a distinct smokiness that sets them apart from American whiskeys).
Because of its mild taste and strong aromatic qualities, Lapsang souchong is a good tool to stock in your kitchen. It can act as a sort of liquid smoke in cured salmon or marinades for meat. You can infuse desserts with it by steeping some of the cream or milk in the recipe with tea or by grinding it to a powder in a spice mill and adding a pinch. But above all, perhaps, it makes a perfect complement to whiskey in cocktails. It smoothes out the bright lemony sharpness of a whiskey sour, and makes a hot toddy hotter without overwhelming its flavor.
One of the handiest ways to incorporate Lapsang souchong into cocktails is by making a simple syrup using two parts strongly brewed tea and one part sugar. You can keep a jar of this in the fridge and add it to old fashioneds, sazeracs, whiskey sours, and any other classic cocktails that call for simple syrup.
Smoky Whiskey Sour
Makes one drink
- 1 Lapsang souchong tea bag
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 oz peated scotch
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 1 egg white
- a lemon slice and a maraschino cherry for garnish
- Brew the Lapsang Souchong tea bag in ½ cup of hot water. Add the ¼ cup of sugar, and stir to dissolve. After steeping for about five minutes, you can discard the teabag. This is your Lapsang Souchong simple syrup.
- In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, lemon juice, egg white, and 1 ounce of the Lapsang Souchong simple syrup with a handful of ice cubes. Shake until white and frothy.
- Pour into a glass and garnish with lemon and a maraschino cherry.