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.
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.
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