Lightly fermented tea leaves infused with the scent of jasmine flowers
Has a tea more relaxing than Jasmine ever been invented? That blissful aroma of mild leaves and sweet tropical flowers? Probably not. So it’s ironic, then – no, it’s poetic – that the blending of jasmine tea is actually quite a fraught experience.
Jasmine plants grow in hot climates and the flowers have to be picked under the baking afternoon sun in summer. It may not be much fun for humans but the flowers love it, opening and releasing their scent in the early evening.
Once they have been heaped into piles indoors, a skilled tea maker blends the tea leaves and jasmine flowers together, in sauna-like conditions (albeit a fragrant sauna), all the way through the night. As if that wasn’t demanding enough, maintaining the right temperature is an arduous task requiring constant vigilance. Too hot and the tea leaves lose their mildness; too cool and the jasmine won’t take to the tea.
When the blending is done, to make higher grades (such as our Jasmine Chung Hao) the master blender removes the spent flowers and repeats the whole process several times over, to create an even more refined flavour. Or for a standard jasmine tea such as the one we present here, the tea makers leave the flowers in – not because of any effect on flavour but because it is more effort to remove them all, and haven’t they done enough for you already? It is not surprising, then, that in recent years some tea makers have been tempted away from jasmine production in favour of other less troublesome blends that fetch better prices.
Jasmine tea is a thousand year-old tradition in China. In earlier times, the Chinese used to flavour tea with onions and other pungent aromas. Then tastes changed as everybody fell for sweet, fragrant jasmine and other flowers. They were way ahead of me there. I’ll never forget the day a few years back when a friend saw me settling down with my onion tea and said, “Haven’t you heard? There’s a new way.” The plant continues to occupy such a special place in Chinese culture that an ancient folk song called “Jasmine Flower” was chosen as an official song of the Beijing Olympics and played during every medal presentation.
So whenever you drink jasmine tea, you could similarly picture yourself being presented with a medal for your fine taste, or, better still, raise a toast to the uncelebrated alchemists of jasmine tea – they deserve medals themselves.