Lotus Blossom Tea

As you can probably tell by our post history, we love exploring the intersection of tea and culture. For any country that has been producing tea for a long time, certain cultivars or blends are often seen as being particularly emblematic of their cultural heritage. Chinese Dragon Well, Japanese Sencha, Indian Masala Chai – the list goes on. In this post, we’re going to take a look at another such tea of national importance: Vietnamese Lotus Blossom tea.

Tea Scented In a Lotus Flower (unfortunately it can’t travel outside Vietnam).

            For the Vietnamese, the lotus flower is prized for more than its rare beauty and sweet fragrance. Vietnamese poetry and philosophy has long praised the blossoms as symbols of purity, perseverance, hope, and optimism, as the seeds take root in deep mud, sinking below the surface every night before rising to bloom with the dawn. Officially recognized as the country’s national flower, the lotus is a staple of Vietnamese art, architecture, cuisine, medicine, and (of course), its tea.

            The art of infusing tea leaves with the scent of the lotus blossom is said to date back to the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1883), during the reign of King Tu Duc. During the night, when the blossoms were at their most fragrant, the king’s servants would row across the lake to carefully open the closed petals and fill the flowers with green or yellow tea, binding them shut with silk ribbon to keep the tea leaves dry. In the morning, the newly-scented tea would be harvested and served to the king with his breakfast.

            The modern production of traditional lotus tea is still done entirely by hand, although methods of scenting have changed. According to the expertise of Hanoian tea crafters, the only suitable blossoms for this scenting are West Lake lotus flowers. While white, yellow, and green tea are still used for scenting, Russian tea production practices in the 1980s introduced and popularized the use of black tea as base.

Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam facing Ngoc Son Temple.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm or Lake of the Returned Sword in downtown Hanoi, Vietnam

After being harvesting, the base tea is subject to repeated phases of drying to give it a moisture content of 2-3%. Once this is achieved, it will then be ready to be infused with fragrance. Lotus flowers, plucked before dawn to ensure their finest aromatic quality, are harvested for their stamens, which are mixed with the tea leaves. The tea and stamens are left blended together for 36 to 48 hours, during which time the tea will absorb the fragrance and flavors of the lotus flower. When this scenting period is complete, the tea is again dried and then hand-sifted to remove the lotus stamens, after which it is ready for packaging.

Due to the exclusivity of these prized lotus flowers, and the laborious process involved in its production, traditional lotus blossom tea is a treasured commodity in Vietnam, and a rarity in the American market. But its heavenly floral fragrance and smooth sweetness make it a must-try for any tea enthusiast.

By: Jen Coate

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Scented Tea – Creating Exquisite Tea Aromas

Pearl shaped tea is often found scented.

Jasmine Scented Tea (Jasmine Dragon Tears)

Scented teas are certainly very popular. They have been around for hundreds of years and continue to be favored by many today. This isn’t really too surprising. We scent everything from moisturizers to dryer sheets and even pine scented air fresheners for our cars. In the case of specialty, loose leaf, teas, the most popular scent is jasmine though others may be used. Scenting is used to enhance the aroma and taste of many different types of teas including silver needle, oolongs, white teas, and of course pearl shaped green teas.

Most of the time loose teas are scented as a way to add value to the finished product. In other words, take an already good tea and make it a bit better through additional floral aromas. At the same time there certainly are producers who seek to scent teas as a way to hide defects or salvage teas that might otherwise not be sold. Attempts to cover up bad tea or hide defects have been occurring for hundreds of years and likely as long as scenting has been occurring. More than 120 years ago, Joseph M. Walsh noted in Tea, Its History and Mystery, “though scenting in general is supposed to be confined to the choicer grades of tea it is as often applied to the inferior sorts, with the object of disguising or concealing their defective or damaged condition, and imparting a pleasant odor, a much larger quantity being used in the latter.”

Scenting of teas is possible since tea, after processing has been processed and fired to remove most of its moisture.  This results in leaves which are hygroscopic, readily absorbing both moisture and flavor. It is the same property that causes tea stored at home to readily absorb flavors and aromas from the mint or garlic stored nearby that enables tea to be scented.

Scented Tea from Jasmine

Jasmine flower for producing scented tea.

Scented tea is often produced using jasmine petals.

The production of scented tea, or huāchá, originated in China as early as the Song Dynasty (960 CE to 1279 CE) and quickly gained popularity.  During the Ming and on into the Qing Dyanasties, scented tea production continued to gain in popularity to be a large commercial endeavor with scenting of tea practiced throughout much of China.

The actual production of loose leaf scented tea begins with the tea maker selecting the type of aroma for scenting and acquiring the flowers.  In much the same way that specialized tea cultivars have been developed, so too have various cultivars of flowers used in scenting. Most notably in creating jasmine scented teas, several key cultivars have been developed for their aroma and flower style.  Similarly cultivars have been developed even to fine tune the time of day when the flowers will open after plucking with some opening earlier in the evening and others opening later.

Workers pluck jasmine blossoms early in the day looking for just the right size such that they will open that evening.  If the blossoms have already opened then they do not impart as much aroma and oils.  Blossoms that aren’t quite ready at the time of pluck will never open and thus don’t help with the scenting process.

Tea to be scented is heated to further reduce its moisture and cooled in preparation for scenting.  Jasmine flowers are selected for optimum size.  Tea is spread out in a layer and jasmine flowers spread on top.  Another layer of tea is added and so on to create multiple layers of tea and jasmine.  The mixture is left for several hours before the jasmine leaves are separated out and the tea is dried again.  Depending on the tea being made this may be repeated multiple times to create the finished product.  Great care is taken to ensure jasmine isn’t left too long with the tea and the tea is adequately dried for final shipping.

The result, of course, is a great jasmine scented tea, be it a simple green tea, jasmine scented pearls, or other types of tea.

Photo of a rose bud which can be used to create scented teas.

Scented tea can use other flowers or ingredients besides jasmine.

Scented Tea Using Alternative Ingredients

Jasmine may be the most well known flower used in the scenting process but it is by no means alone.  Since tea readily absorbs aromas from flowers, any number of things can be used in the scenting process.  After jasmine, scented teas one of the next popular teas today are rose scented teas.  Typically, black teas are scented with rose although increasingly some producers are scenting green and puerh teas.  In the case of scenting with roses some petals are often added back for aesthetic purposes. Other popular flowers for use in scented teas over the past 100 years include osmanthus, chlorantus, gardenia, and iris. Throughout history other things including seeds, roots, and dried fruits have also been used in scenting teas.

Last but not least, smoke can also be used in scenting teas, notably with Lapsang Souchong, a smoked black tea from China. Production of Lapsang Souchong occurs through the drying of tea in smoke produced from pinewood fires. It is a very distinct tea that has strong flavor and aroma and is certainly an acquired taste for some.  This tea is rumored to be one of the oldest teas still available today.

Scented teas are loved by many, though certainly isn’t for everyone. There are a great many options in scented teas and serves to add yet more avenues for exploration.  For many, scented teas may even be the first exposure to a broader world of specialty, loose leaf, teas, just as white zinfandel can be a first step toward fine wines.  If you are new to specialty teas, you may find that jasmine scented teas serving as an excellent gateway to a broader world of green and oolong teas.Follow Dominion Tea: Facebooktwitterpinterestrss