I was recently gifted some Rose Scented Black Tea from Harney and Sons from a person who attends the tea class I teach at our local Community College. It was a very sweet gesture on her part – I was truly touched by her thoughtfulness. So, in her honor her generous gift will be our R tea!
First though, let’s talk about scented teas in general.
Technically scenting tea is a manufacturing process of naturally altering the aroma and taste of a tea. This is achieved with tea due to it being hygroscopic (means that the tea will absorb moisture and aromas from its surrounding environment.)
Traditionally, scented teas are made from different types of finished tea leaves that are scented slowly with different fresh flowers to absorb aroma and flavor. Most scented tea won’t be sold with the flowers themselves, the tea has already absorbed the aroma during the slow processing. Chinese tea makers describe good scented tea as having a floral aroma absorbed in to its “bones.” Tea has a character of slowly absorbing any flavor and aroma around, meaning quality scented tea will take at least 2-3 weeks to fully absorb the scent. For high quality scented tea, the tea must be scented with fresh flowers for hours at a time, multiple times. After being scented each time, the tea master must be very patient to remove the moisture that has been absorbed in to the tea from the fresh flowers. Modern scented tea, also called flavored tea, is mixed with different dried flowers and dried fruits. These inclusions do not have much scent on their own, so the makers of flavored tea have to spray the tea mixture with essential oils to give it an aroma.
History of Scented Tea
Scented teas were invented in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In that time, people would compress fresh leaves to make highly concentrated tea, and scent it with Long Lao (a blend of herbs) to give it a strong aroma. In the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), tea culture changed to appreciate pure tea without the addition of flowers and spices. In late Song Dynasty, around the 12th century, scented tea made its return in the form of jasmine and osmanthus tea from the region that is now Guangdong Province. Jasmine tea was also produced in Ming Dynasty, but in very small quantities. Jasmine tea was mentioned in this time as a medicinal herb because it is regarded by Chinese medicine as an herb with balanced character, neither cooling or warming, but helpful in balancing chi. It was used to treat dry skin and tense muscles.
Making Scented Tea
Most scented tea are made from blending completed green tea with fresh flowers, although some producers do use completed black or oolong tea. Scented tea’s production season depends very much upon the harvest season of different types of flowers. It normally takes about 2-3 weeks for the scenting process.
Ready to bloom flower buds are collected on the same day as the plucking for immediate use. Some tea producers call this buds “hua mu” — the mother of the flower scent. In scenting a tea with flowers, a layer of tea, about 1.5 cm thick, is laid on a plastic matt on the floor. A thin layer of flower buds is spread on top of it. Another layer of tea goes on top. This sandwiching is repeated for a few layers to about 30 ~ 45 cm thick, depending on the quality grade. The biological heat of the flowers trapped by the tea layers hastens the flowers to bloom. The tea absorbs the released fragrance. In finer teas, this scenting process is repeated a few times, each time using fresh flowers and the used ones removed. The tea has to be bake-dried each time. In very fine ones, there can be as many as 6 rounds of that plus an additional half-round of scenting only.
Scenting with Rose…
Is a bit simpler where the flowers are just mixed in the tea. It used to be mostly black teas, but lately there seems to be some people scenting also green teas and pu-ers with the flower. Anyway, the mix is piled up to about 40 cm for a one round scenting. The flowers are removed before the tea is put through drying. A sprinkle of dried rose petals is added on later sparingly so taste is not sacrificed for decoration. This is not to be confused with other products that are mixed with petals without the scenting, or with spray-on scenting.
What do you think are the most popular scented teas in the world?
Next…Rose Scented Black Tea in my cup