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 is hygroscopic, meaning it readily absorbs 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
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.
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.