Ten of China's Underappreciated Teas, Alex Zorach included two scented tea, Jasmine Tea and Rose-scented Tea. I am very glad to see them being acknowledged! Jasmine green tea is one of my favorite tea varieties, and I too, feel it's often undervalued, both within and out of China. Historical record of tea being scented by jasmine, rose and other fragrant flowers can be traced back to the 13th centuries. Throughout hundreds of years in history, Jasmine Tea has been cherished by people of certain regions. For example, in China, Beijing (northern China), Sichuan (southwestern China) and Fuzhou (southeastern China) are a few historical centers of Jasmine Tea appreciation. Jasmine Tea is also the favorite drink of many Chinese Muslims in the North.
I believe one of the reasons why Jasmine Tea is undervalued is that in modern time, traditional techniques of Jasmine Tea processing are very often ignored. Sometimes, improperly made scented teas make people believe scented teas are inferior teas. And then, lack of market acknowledgment leads to further loss of tea processing traditions.
"Being natural" doesn't always mean the same thing in modern sense and in traditional sense. For example, if an organic, 100% natural jasmine essential oil is used to mix with other 100% natural ingredient to make a fragrant oil for scented tea, it's probably considered "natural" in modern sense. But from the view of traditional tea workers, it's very "unnatural". Traditionally, a Jasmine Tea must be made with real jasmine flowers. Jasmine essential oil is a natural product - I sometimes use it to make facial moisturizer and I like it much better than many commercial moisturizers. But in the processing of Jasmine Tea, only the use of real flowers is considered "natural".
Naturally made Jasmine Tea doesn't come easy. It requires freshest jasmine flowers. Jasmine blooms in the afternoon. Flower buds are harvested in the afternoon right before blooming. Then the flower buds are laid in special containers and "nurtured" so that in early evening they will start to bloom. The blooming flowers are then have their sepals removed and added to green tea. Tea leaves are highly absorptive and will take in the fragrance of the jasmine flowers in the next 12-24 hours. During the time, the tea and flowers should be carefully stirred up and re-mixed for many times. At the end, the "used" flowers are removed from the tea.
This may already sound tedious. But we should keep it in mind that this is only less than 1/4 of the entire work. The above described is one scenting cycle. Higher end products of Jasmine Tea are usually scented four times or more. For instance, the best Jasmine Dragon Ball typically goes through seven scenting cycles which takes totally more jasmine flowers than green tea by weight. After all the scenting cycles, there is a "promoting" step which uses the largest and best jasmine flowers to further promote the fresh taste of the final product. Then these flowers are removed from the tea. Sometimes the producers through in another batch of fresh jasmine flowers in the final products for decoration and more fragrance. Some producers don't do this and they believe the highest level of Jasmine Tea is having the jasmine aroma all over the tea without a single petal seen.
Yet this is not all the work. Some specific teas require multiple times and various levels of roasting between and/or after the scenting cycles. Some techniques include using fragrant flowers of another species (michelia) to "lay the foundation of the fragrance" before the scenting cycles with jasmine flowers.
Traditionally and naturally made Jasmine Tea is very unique. The fragrance of jasmine flowers is powerful and long lasting. On summer nights, I love having a few jasmine flowers next to my bed. Their aroma lasts for many hours. On some winter days, I would suddenly crave for some Jasmine Tea. It makes me feel as if I were in a soft bed full of jasmine flowers.
In some sense, Jasmine Tea is an odd tea. Some Jasmine Tea has flower petals in it, some doesn't. Even when there are petals, they are only the flowers added to the tea in the final stage. All the flowers used in the scenting cycles and the "promoting" step were removed from the tea once they gave out all their fragrance. Therefore, when you have a nice cup of Jasmine Tea, half of the key ingredient, the flowers, are not physically in your cup. Yet the soul of those flowers, the essence of their fragrance will linger around infusion after infusion.
4 months ago