Lapsang Souchong

There’s nothing quite like the smokey aroma of lapsang souchong, my grandmother’s favorite tea.

I, myself, am an Earl Grey girl–heavy on the cream. Cream, mind you, not milk. And, god forbid, not skim milk. Skim milk–what I dis-affectionately refer to as white water–belongs in nothing. If you’re going to drink milk, then by all means drink milk. I mean, if you like the stuff. Milk, that is.

Now, don’t get me wrong, great things can be done with milk. Milk soap, chocolate milk (hot or cold), great scrambled eggs, cheeses, and (perhaps best of all) custard. But milk as a drink…well, it’s nothing less than a northern European conspiracy. A college friend in Costa Rica used to eat his cereal with water (how he didn’t get deathly ill from the little swimmies in the roof-top water drums, I’ll never know), but I suppose I could see his point. Skim milk??? Might as well drink water.

The water on Ames Hollow Farm is perhaps the best water in the world. My folks keep looking for ways to make make money on this farm, when really all that needs be done is bottle the wonderful water. The entire farm sits on the ancient sand bed of the Connecticut River, which over the millenia meandered several miles from us. The well is thrust deep into the sand, and the water has the purest taste imaginable.

Whenever I go to New York City I am sure to have a glass of that city’s wonderful water. It is very good, that water. I can see why their water wins awards every year. It has a wonderful, sweet and refreshing taste–truly amazing to find deep in urban life.

Many years ago, when I was about fourteen, the United Nations had a Year of Clean Water. The idea was that each participating country would send a vial of their clearest water to be mixed ceremoniously in a giant bowl before the gathering. The United States, rather than choose just one source of water, decided to have each state send a vial of clear-source water to be blended into a sample to represent the US. I’m not really sure how I was asked to participate, but I there I was, ceremoniously dumping Wyoming into a big glass bowl.

That was the first time I ever wondered what was actually in our water. As we respectfully dumped our vials of water in alphabetical order, the contents of the water bowl turned a sludgy brown, sediment forming and swirling as minerals in the ‘pure’ samples collided with each other. Frankly, I was surprised the brew didn’t start to hiss and boil. Since then, I’ve often wondered how ‘pure’ water with taste can really be. Read those fancy bottled water labels. There’s more than just water in there.

The water on Ames Hollow Farm has no flavor–just refreshing, cold, and wet. In other words, perfect for brewing tea.

Whenever we visited my grandmother, especially in the winter, we were always invited in for tea. Into the sitting room, Grandma on the red settee, the rest of us vying for the rocking chairs, we girls on our very best behavior.  On rare occasion, Grandma enjoyed trying new black teas. Oolong, Darjeeling, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey. But by far, the pinnacle of her tea discoveries was the smokey loveliness of lapsang souchong.

It’d been a few years since I’d found lapsong souchong again. The rest of society has gone crazy for the whites, greens, herbals, decafs, and teas flavored with flowers or vanilla. Even my beloved Earl Grey has been ‘improved’ into “double bergamot Earl Greyer”. But one day, while perusing the shelves at Whole Foods, there it was–a treasure.

I don’t drink it often. It’s an afternoon tea, or one to luxuriate in during a heavy snow with a fire blazing in the hearth. A raw tea requiring no buffering with cream, sugar or lemon. Every time I add the leaves to the pot, it brings back the memories of my grandmother and all the women-folk of my family, laughing and smiling over a pot of that mysterious, heavenly brew.

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3 thoughts on “Lapsang Souchong

  1. Melissa Harper says:

    It is my favorite tea. I have a wonderful large tin in my pantry on the top shelf. Sometimes, if I’m having that type of day where I need a warm memory, I open the tin and just inhale the smokey aroma of the loose tea leaves. I never understood just why I loved that tea so much until I read that the leaves were smoked over pine needles. Pines in general are my favorite trees.

    I used to enjoy milk and sugar in my tea with grandma. She would let me pour and I think she got a kick out of me trying to remember how to use the tiny strainer as I poured the tea. I now prefer my tea with no added luxuries. Just a good size tea cup and quiet.

    I have many good memories sitting on the red couch, over tea and sandwiches. We shared stories of triumphs, regrets, and of course love. Our knitting was pushed to the side for an hour or two while we caught up. Toward the end of my visits, the light would start to fade outside. We would wash up the dishes together and sometimes I would return the silver back to the chest. On days when I really need a good warm hug of a memory, I open the tin in my pantry take down that special tea, walk over to the silver chest and open the bottom drawer and just let myself enjoy the rich aroma of the chest and the tea leaves. My troubles will be wrapped in a warm scented memory of afternoons past and I will start to feel better again.

  2. I wonder if she knows? (heart!)

  3. Shari says:

    We do have common interest Lisa! I have been studying clean water, water sheds and conspiracy theories about our nations water for decades. Let me know if you would like some info. My ex husband is the director of California Rual Water (a big job) and I have taken many classes and workshops on the subject. I moved to Hot Springs AR due to my friend being there and when I visited her I fell in love the with hot springs which are everywhere, all temps. They call Arkansas the Natural State due to the abundance of nature resources here which I love! Talk to you later, enjoy your day (and your tea, also a favorite). Checkout Mountain Valley Water web site, these folks no how to do it right!

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