Jasmine teas have been made in China since the fifth century and only began being exported to Europe in the 1600’s. They include teas like the classic Jasmine Green as well as Jasmine Dragon Tears (aka Jasmine Pearls). This hugely popular variety of tea gets its scent from Jasmine flowers, which only open at night.
The two main species of Jasmine used in Jasmine tea are native to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, as well as the eastern Himalayan region and have spread into China and across the globe because of humans. Jasmine is actually a member of the olive family. It is a vine that looses its leaves every fall. Jasmine typically blooms in the summer, not early spring when most of the best teas are picked. The flowers are white and open only in the evening when they release the oil that contains their famous scent. This beautiful plant is pollinated by moths, not bees, which are nocturnal insects. Plants that have evolved to have nocturnal pollinators are very fragrant as they use the fragrance to guide in their pollinators. It is believed that the Jasmine plant was introduced to China sometime during the Han Dynasty (200 BCE to 200 CE).
Making Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea is traditionally made with green tea but you will also find it made with white or black tea. As mentioned earlier, Jasmine does not bloom when tea does. So the tea is picked, manufactured into its green state and then stored for 3-4 months, pending location, before being scented with jasmine. The jasmine blossoms are picked in the morning while closed and kept in a cool shaded place until evening, when it will be applied to the tea. The scenting process is rather laborious regardless of whether the tea is ultimately turned into a pearl or left in its original state of being twisted.
There are typically two methods of infusing the tea with the jasmine scent. The first method is to alternately layer the tea and the jasmine blossoms. These layers are built typically with a fine mesh cloth, almost like cheese cloth in between the layers to allow for the removal and replacement of the jasmine petals. Given the type and grade of tea that the scent is being applied to, the blossoms may be replaced multiple times before the tea is considered complete. On average, it takes about four hours for the jasmine scent to permeate the tea. However, some of the highest grade jasmines may take as long as 12 hours for the scenting application process. The tea is then sent back through the drying process to remove the moisture it absorbed from the jasmine flowers. The second method involves blending together the jasmine petals with the tea and allowing it to sit overnight in a cloth bag to allow the scent to apply. The petals are then removed by hand and the tea is generally rolled into tiny balls, or pearls. Some of those pearls may still have a jasmine petal in them that you will not see until it is brewed and the pearl opens into a full leaf.
Enjoying Jasmine Tea
Like all green teas, Jasmine Green Tea or Jasmine Dragon Tears are best brewed at water temperatures between 170-185° Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes. A high quality jasmine tea can be steeped at least twice before losing its fragrant nose. If you haven’t had a Jasmine tea before, it is a light refreshing tea made with considerable care.