Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Smoke on the Water

I have had some ambivalence about Lapsang Souchong, a black tea from the Wuyi Shan region of China. I don't exactly know why that has been so, but heretofore, when a yen for a black tea has come over me, I have found myself giving a cursory glance at the canister bearing the Lapsang Souchong label and quickly deciding against it in favor of another black -often Keemun or Darjeeling.

But today was different. This tea's assertively smoky nature suddenly struck a chord within me. Perhaps it was the whiff of spring in the air leading me to anticipate a walk in the forest, over a floor carpeted with pine needles, emitting a verdant smokiness. At any rate, the long-neglected tea -bought several years ago, curiously enough, in a quaint Persian-owned general store in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago- now found itself emerging from its pantry holding-pen.

It is a paradox: smoke, evanescent and veiling - these qualities suggested in such expressions as smoke screen or smoke and mirrors- embodies itself so fully into the Lapsang Souchong so that the tea itself is unambiguously smoky and corporeally so.

It was only natural then for me to pair this muscular tea with the popover, its ephemeral and airy counterpart (this recipe was taken from Mark Bittman's compendiously wonderful How to Cook Everything). I inhaled the aroma emanating from the oven -one redolent of a baking swirl of eggs, milk, and butter, conjuring up toasty mornings ensconced in a snow-covered log cabin. Pulling the muffin tray away from the waft of heat, I was greeted with golden airy domes -transformed from erstwhile scoopfuls of creaminess- that seemed to soar from their earthbound state.

A popover slid off effortlessly onto my plate, its crusty browning base contrasting with the lighter-hued puffiness above. A bite into one revealed an unexpectedly custardy interior -pleasantly eggy with only a hint of sweetness. I sipped my Lapsang Souchong slowly, savoring its robust heft of smokiness and wishing for that fire in the sky.

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