Kristen knows what she wants at Imperial Tea Court: the Taiwanese niu ro mien(*), a noodle soup with thick hand-cut noodle, big chunks of beef, a ladle or two of mahogany sauce, and a strong taste of star anise. Now my job is to pick out a tea to go with it.
My original thought was the Topaz pu’er because the name sounds interesting, and because now that I’m begun to appreciate the taste of pu’er, I wanted to do it the Chinese way: pu’er is good for digestion of fatty heavy food. But the hostess said they didn’t have it, so I switched to a black tea (hong cha): Lapsang Souchong, which I haven’t had before.
For the one tea spoon of tea that they gave us, I steeped for about 30-45 seconds until I see a deep orange red color. To me, this liquid smells and tastes exactly like the black grass jelly made from Mesona chinensis (both the plant and the jelly are referred to by the same name: xiancao in Mandarin, sian-cháu in Taiwanese, and sương sáo in Vietnamese). If you haven’t had sương sáo, then the best description I can give you of this tea would be rooty with a herbal scent, it’s sweet with a little spice, it tastes cool and clearing. There is no smoky flavor. Lapsang Souchong is definitely not a strong black tea.
Lapsang Souchong (in traditional Chinese: 拉普山小種, and in simplified Chinese: 正山小种, which means “little plant on Lapu Mountain”) is a black tea from Fujian, and it is said to be the first black tea in history. Kristen and I both found it a good company to the beefy noodle soup: although both have profound flavors, one herbal and one meaty, they compliment each other. We steeped it 6 times, and it left us with a long cooling, soothing aftertaste.
(*) The broth of niu ro mien, which literally means “beef meat noodle”, is a thinner version of the Vietnamese bò kho, but while bò kho is eaten with either bread or rice vermicelli, the mien in niu ro mien is thick wheat noodle. For a thorough description with ingredients and all: see recipe by Terri @ A Daily Obsession/Hunger Hunger