Sunday, 6 April 2014

Up in Smoke

A recent visit to Asia de Cuba in London for their fusion tea experience with the Secret Tea Society served to remind me how much I enjoy the wonderful, rich, smokey flavour of Lapsang Souchong tea, particularly when it's as fine as the Jing Tea lapsang that is served there. The aroma is quite savoury, like smoked meat or fish, but the taste is incredibly smooth and fresh. The mouth is left feeling smokey yet clean. It's an oddly compelling sensation and one I wanted to explore further.

Smokey cocktails have been popping up in trendy bars, worldwide; some using liquid smoke to not only impart some smokey flavour but to create an incredibly dramatic look and some, using ingredients that have been smoked in advance. Smoked ice cubes have been tantalising the tastebuds of cocktalians, along with smoked lemons, chillis and herbs. All very clever and very interesting, but not necessarily something that can be easily replicated at home.

This is where the smokey flavour of a high quality Lapsang Souchong tea comes in - not only can the cold tea be used as a cocktail ingredient, but it is incredibly easy to make an intensely flavoured syrup from the tea, that can be used to sweeten and enhance your drinks.

Lapsang Souchong Syrup

The trick is to make the tea far stronger than you would normally as you want maximum flavour for a minimal amount of syrup. I used 1 tsp of good quality Lapsang teas to each ounce of liquid and let it steep for no more than 3 minutes to avoid it becoming bitter.

3 tsp Lapsang Souchong leaves
3oz boiled water
6oz caster sugar

Make the tea as directed above, then strain and discard the leaves.
Stir in the sugar while the tea is still very hot and continue to stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
Allow to cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Another, 'must try' ingredient if you want to get the full smoke experience, is Chase Smoked Vodka. It's made from their top notch, smooth and creamy tasting potato vodka and has won numerous awards. From personal experience, I can attest that it makes an amazing Smoked Espresso Martini and Smoked Mary (like a Bloody Mary) which you must try, should you treat yourself to a bottle. This week I decided to pair its clean, smoked flavour with the herbal sweetness of a rosemary syrup, contrasted against the sharp citrus of freshly squeezed lemon in a martini style drink. It's a nice combination even with regular vodka, but the smoke really adds another dimension - a perfect aperitif for those summer barbecues...

Smoked Rosemary Sour

2oz Chase Smoked Vodka
1oz lemon juice
3/4oz rosemary syrup
sprig of rosemary to garnish

Add all the liquid to a shaker with ice and shake hard until the shaker frosts over.
Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish.

This next cocktail uses Lapsang Souchong tea to compliment the many tasting notes of Jura Superstition single malt. It's lightly peated with hints of honey and pine, so has a great deal in common with Jing Tea's Lapsang. To balance out the drink I added a touch of heather honey and some freshly squeezed clementine juice which bring a delicate, fragrant sweetness and just enough citrus to keep it fresh. The final touch was a dash or two of Angostura orange bitters which adds a subtle, but discernible note of aromatic spice.

Bonnie Lassie 

1oz cold lapsang souchong tea
1oz freshly squeezed clementine juice
1 tsp Tiptree Heather Honey
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
Clementine wheel to garnish

Add everything but the garnish to a shaker with ice and shake hard to mix.
Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish.

This next drink uses the quite remarkable Gin Mare which has an incredibly distinctive taste unlike any other gin. Of course there is juniper and citrus, but the rosemary and thyme really stand out, blending with olive to create an unusual and unique spirit that evokes the mediterranean in every sip. In fact, the flavour is so wonderfully overwhelming that the addition of Lapsang Souchong syrup (see above) just added a subtle, smokey aftertaste as though it were being sipped whilst sat around a campfire on the beach.

Smoked Mare

2oz Gin Mare
1oz lemon juice
3/4oz Lapsang Syrup
dash of soda

Add the gin, syrup and lemon to the bottom of a shaker with ice and stir to combine until the outside of the shaker frosts over.
Strain into an ice filled glass, add a dash of soda and stir gently to combine.

Finally, and possibly my favourite of the lot, was this Smokey Bourbon Bramble; sweet, sour, smokey and quaffable - a great one to scale up and serve in pitchers on a sunny afternoon (a girl can dream...)

Smokey Bourbon Bramble

2oz Buffalo Chase Bourbon
3/4oz Creme de Cassis
1oz cold lapsing souchong tea
1/2oz lemon juice
6 fresh blackberries

Press the blackberries through a fine sieve to remove the pips and collect the juice.
Add the juice, along with all the other ingredients to the bottom of a shaker with ice and shake hard.
Strain into an ice filled glass and garnish with a whole blackberry.

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