Jasmine Scented Teas (Mo Li Hua Cha, Xiang Pian, 茉莉花茶)
Tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) scented with jasmine blossoms (Jasminum sp.). The teas can be green, black, white, or pouchong (bao zhong). The jasmine is the key, not the tea, although you will want one with at least a good quality tea base. The large majority of these teas are from China, where they originated.
Jasmine teas fall into what the tea experts call “scented” teas but you can just call them “flavored” teas, since items used to create the scents usually affect both aroma and flavor. The best grade is supposed to be from the Fujian Province (“Fukien”, 福建省), but versions are also available from Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang provinces. The floral aroma of jasmines can be quite overwhelming to those humans with sensitive sniffers. Of course, this also means that jasmine teas need to be stored properly, that is, in air tight containers away from your other teas, or you could end up with a whole cupboard or tea pantry full of jasmines, whether you intend it or not.
Jasmine teas come in a bunch of forms, including:
|Pearls||Full leaves hand-rolled into little pearl shapes), also called “tears.”|
|Needles||Full leaves processed into long, thin shapes.|
|Blooming||Full leaves and often flower petals sewn together in a “bud” that opens up as it steeps like a flower blooming.|
|Full leaf||Often the two-leaves-and-a-bud picking from the very end of the tea bush branches.|
|Broken leaf||Leaves from further down on the branch or that have been machine harvested and processed either by hand or machine and possibly further broken.|
|Fannings||Machine processed tea leaves ground to smaller pieces but larger than dust.|
|Dust||Machine processed tea leaves ground down really fine for easier bagging and/or steeping and usually flavored with jasmine oil instead of real blooms.|
|Compressed||Processed leaves pressed into shapes such as hearts.|
Making Jasmine Teas
There are different methods of scenting the tea leaves, but these seem to be the two main ones:
History of Jasmine Green Tea
Whether you call it “flavored” or “scented,” jasmine tea has been around a long while, starting some time during the Song Dynasty in China (960-1279). The Chinese had begun to try adding various spices and flowers to green teas for a bit of variety, just as you add such things to your foods. The method of adding jasmine flowers to tea during processing and prior to drying them was introduced in the Ming Dynasty (1500s). Production methods were further perfected in the Qing Dynasty (1800s), leading to an expansion of the number of tea farmers attempting to make jasmine scented teas.
More About Pearl Versions of Jasmine Teas
In tea, a “pearl” is usually a single whole tea leaf or leaf-bud sets rolled into a ball shape after withering and before final drying. They are often called “Dragon Pearls,” the dragon being an important part of Chinese mythology (a symbol of beauty and wisdom). These pearls are carefully stored from their plucking and processing in April to the time when the jasmine trees bloom (usually late June). Baskets full of unopened jasmine blossoms are rushed to the tea farmers for scenting those waiting pearls. Here the processing differs a bit from processing other tea leaf forms.
The pearls are separated into mesh trays and placed in a heated drier. A mesh tray of freshly picked jasmine flowers is placed in between each tray. The drier gently blows 80° air through the tea and the blossoms, allowing the tea to gently absorb the scent of the flowers. In the morning the trays are removed, and the pearls are reheated to remove moisture absorbed from the blossoms. The scented pearls are then packed into chests and prepared for shipment. The blossoms might be saved and used over the next few nights on lesser-quality teas.
Beware of which ones you buy. Some tea farmers start out with pearls that have sat around 18 months or more after being harvested, or they use tea leaves harvested in Summer and that are not as high quality. Pearls can also be scented with oils and extracts instead of the actual tea blossoms. One sign of top quality is that there are only a few jasmine blossoms in with the tea leaves (strays that have fallen in with the pearls/leaves during processing).
Some Jasmine Teas
These are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Teas scented with jasmine have become so popular that they are available with a variety of tea bases and from just about every tea-growing country, not just China. However, we think the ones from China are best. It really takes knowledge and skill to get the scenting just right. Too many are over- or underdone.
Click on each photo to see details:
See also: The Tea Provinces of China
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