Tuesday, August 05, 2014

From jasmine flowers to jasmine tea

In Changhua county, near Huatan, there's a old and declining industry linked to tea: flower growers! In summer, they provide the flowers with which common tea leaves and stems are enhanced naturally with the scents of freshly harvested flowers. This tea is often called '香片'Xiāngpiàn, fragrant petals, in Taiwan. For many old Chinese who don't drink Oolong, this is what they drink every day.
There are many grades and quality levels for scented tea.

* The quality of the leaves varies. By definition, the best leaves taste best on their own, so it's never the highest grade, the best leaves that are taken to make scented leaves. With scented tea, it's not so much about the tea than it is about the scent (of the flowers). Nevertheless, there are big differences if the material used is stems or spring green tea buds.
 * The quality varies with the flower used. The finest is made with jasmine flowers.They are smaller than the gardenia (aka cape-jasmine) and their fragrance is more refined. Since they are smaller, it takes more time to harvest them, which increases their cost.
The cheapest way to make scented tea, though, is with the addition of artificial flavors and this has caused the decline of the jasmine flower plantations.
Small jasmine bud on the left vs. gardenia (cape-jasmine) on the right

 * The quality also greatly depends on how often the leaves are scented with flowers. The more often they are scented, the more flower fragrances they absorb. Tea scented 3 times will require 3 times more flowers than a tea just scented once. The weight won't change, because the flowers are sorted away after each scenting.
The scenting happens when the flowers are mixed with the leaves. This usually takes place at the night, when the buds harvested during the day open up and release their fragrances. In order to help the scents penetrate the leaves, they are often cut small (unless they are small buds). This increases the surface of the leaves that can absorb the scents. After each scenting, the flowers are separated from the leaves. This machine makes this operation and also sorts the leaves according to their size (that's why you can see 2 baskets):



'Imperial' Jasmine tea
This is the 'imperial' version of a jasmine tea I selected for my boutique.

The leaves are green tea buds and small leaves harvested this spring (2014) in SanHsia (Taiwan). You may notice that the color of the leaves and the brew isn't very green, but almost golden/orange.

Why? This is a jasmine tea that was scented 10 times! And it looks less green than the 'premium' version that was scented 6 times! The harvested flowers are fresh and contain a lot of moisture. When they are in contact with the tea leaves, this moisture and the high temperature of the Taiwan's summer nights produce some oxidation for the tea. That's why it's necessary to dry the tea leaves after each scenting, in order to get rid of this moisture. That's why the brew isn't light green, but turns golden.

Spent leaves turn green again. Oxidation was superficial
Jasmine tea is all about the wonderful, amazing fragrance of jasmine flowers in the cup!

But what about the taste? If you are used to drinking Oolong or puerh, there are good chances you will overbrew this tea and find it astringent. The reason for this is that the underlying leaves are originally green and many were cut to increase their absorption of scents. However, these cuts are why tannins are released faster in the brew. (That's also why hand harvested Oolong tastes sweeter than machine harvested Oolong).

Thus, we have to treat this tea as a very delicate green tea. To brew it well, use few leaves and don't let the leaves steep too long. Or don't use water that is too close to boiling. However, you can use the leaves several times because they contain a lot of fragrances.
It's not just my Chinese in-laws who drink jasmine tea daily, but also my parents (and especially my mother)! And they were drinking it long before I met my wife! I want my parents and parents in-law to drink the best possible jasmine tea! It's not their demand, but for me it's more than order. It's my duty as their son. And it has such a lovely fragrance...

5 comments:

Cody Turner said...

Beautiful shots and narritive! I enjoy jasmine pearls from time to time and I have always wondered how they "flavored" the tea. Thank you Stephane!

Stephane said...

Thanks Cody.
In Taiwan, the shape of jasmine tea is always flat and short.
Jasmine pearls is green tea that is rolled and comes from China most of the time. The scenting happens the same way, in theory. Here also, what counts is what flowers are used for the scenting and how many times it's performed.

Kaia said...

Hi, Stephane!
I'd like translate this post to Spanish, saying, of course, that's yours text and mine is a translation. I started my blog about tea last month (http://masquete.com, and I've got another one, in Spanish and Galician: listasdetareas.wordpress.com), and I think this post is wonderful.
Do you give your permission to translate it?
Thanks!

Anabel

Stephane said...

Hi Anabel,
Thank you for asking my permission. Please go ahead! I'm glad to see this article reaching a larger audience. Just mention a link to my blog with your translation.
Best regards to you and all my readers in Spain!

Kaia said...

Thanks, Stephane!
I'll link you, of course :-)