When I was in New Zealand in July, my mom and I got stranded in Queenstown for an extra morning. I think we were both secretly glad about this because, aside from the hassle of waiting on the airline to find us a hotel room in a ski town during the first snowstorm of the season, I don't think either one of us was ready to leave. It was stunningly beautiful in the mountains, and plentiful access to New Zealand pinots was keeping us warm enough.
The only thing though, is if you aren't skiing or bungee jumping, you can pretty quickly run out of things to do in Queenstown in the mornings once you've done the luge, the jet boat and Fergburger. So we hopped the bus up the mountain roads to nearby Arrowtown, a little strip of touristy shops built around the remains of an old gold rush town. The little street was cute and quaint, but it was also freezing. We decided to walk over to the old Chinese mining camp, but halfway there, I stopped in my tracks in front of a chalkboard detailing what sounded to me like the perfect hot chocolate.
I didn't say anything, but immediately turned left into the bar, where I just pointed back at the sign and said to the nice bar lady, "I want two of those, please." My mom had no idea what I had ordered, but she kind of got it as we both watched this lady start up some kind of smoker apparatus, light up some pieces of manuka wood, and waft it all into two full cups of hot chocolate. She handed over the cups, each garnished with a toasted marshmallow, and we distractedly continued on our way to the mining camp, because ohmygod.
Sure, the camp was a cool historical site, and we marveled at the clapboard shacks and huts and sighed over the rough life these miners lived, but literally every 30 seconds one of us would exclaim over the hot chocolate, because every sip was a reminder of how good it was.
It was rich and creamy and wonderfully warming, but the smokiness was really what made it. It made me feel like I was carrying around a little drinkable campfire in my cup, as the chocolate and hot milk and smoke combined into the most delicious, warm treat on a 30 degree morning.
I took one sip and knew I was going to try to recreate it at home, I just had to wait until it was wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, I have neither a smoker nor access to manuka wood, but I do have access to the tea shops in Chinatown, where I knew I could find some lapsang souchong to use instead. The smoked tea is often used in smoked duck and other dishes where a smoky flavor comes through, so why not in my hot chocolate?
The tea infused the hot chocolate with a subtle but unmistakable smokiness, which cuts through the richness of the hot milk and two kinds of chocolate. It's not quite a campfire in your cup, but it's as close as I could get, and that was pretty darn close.
Smoky Hot Chocolate
Makes 4-6 servings
- 3 tbs lapsang souchong, divided
- 3 tbs dutch process cocoa powder
- 3 cups whole milk
- 4 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 3 tbs sugar
- mini marshmallows, for serving
- unsweetened whipped cream, for serving
- Bring 3/4 cups water to a simmer in a small pot, add 1 tbs lapsang souchong, remove from heat, cover and steep for a few minutes, until fragrantly smoky. While steeping tea, bring the milk to a simmer in another small pot and add the remaining tea. Remove from heat and let steep.
- Strain the tea from the water and the milk. Bring the water back to a simmer. Whisk in the cocoa then add the milk. Bring to a simmer, whisk in the chocolate and sugar and then whisk until creamy, about 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately, with whipped cream and mini marshmallows, toasted if you like.