I first tasted Jasmine tea in a Chinese restaurant. As you enter, there is a teapot filled with hot tea on the table. I always enjoyed the delicate flavor and warmth. Recently, I discovered Jasmine tea is served to welcome guests. It is hard to resist the sweet floral aroma. Over the years, I enjoyed green and white jasmine teas. Surprisingly, my research uncovered many new revelations. Jasmine flowers are not indigenous to China. Jasmine tea is its own class of tea. Tea artisans produce a base tea in spring and early spring, then scent the tea with fresh jasmine blossoms. Traditionally, slightly oxidized tea leaves and tea buds were scented with jasmine blooms. Nowadays, you can find highly oxidized tea scented with jasmine blossoms. How did the Chinese think to use jasmine flowers?
Originally, tea tasted awful. Ancient Chinese recognized the medicinal properties, but it tasted horribly bitter. Tea drinkers added berries, salt, spices and flowers. There are several popular flowers used for scenting in China: magnolia, gardenia, rose, chrysanthemum and osmanthus.However, jasmine flowers have a sweet fragrant aroma and exotic glory. It is believed the jasmine flower bush was brought to China from Persia, during the Period of Disunity (220-589). Numerous jasmine varieties exist, but the Arabian jasmine gives Chinese jasmines teas its rich aroma. Tea masters in Fuijian province worked for several hundred years to develop a precise scenting technique.
Manufacturing jasmine tea is a complex delicate process. For centuries, tea masters in the Fujian province specialized in jasmine flower cultivation and jasmine tea manufacture. Traditional jasmine tea is a special base tea called zao bei. Jasmine tea has two categories: premium traditional jasmine tea and standard-grade jasmine tea.
Premium traditional jasmine tea production begins in the early spring. These leaves have all the nutrients that built up in the plant over the winter. Young small tea leaves are plucked in the early morning and withered in the sun all afternoon. After withering, tea leaves are put in the rolling and drying machines. Heat is blown over the leaves to decrease curling. The moisture level is low, but the leaves are not completely dried.The leaves are flat and slightly oxidized. This is zao bei. The tea is ready for cold storage until July. Cooling the tea, the leaf pores are still open. It freezes in time, waiting for the jasmine aroma. Standard grade jasmine is plucked in the summer.
Spring brings the first flush or bloom of the tea bush, yielding flavorful nutrient rich tea. Summer means copious rainfall in the high mountain ranges. The rain allows the tea bush to bloom, but the flavor is diminished. Leaves are plucked after the first and second rains. Production follows the same procedures as the spring picked teas. The leaves are stored until summer, too. Jasmine flowers bloom in early July.
cool storage until summer.
In July, flower pickers begin harvesting new jasmine buds at noon. Noon is an ideal time to pick new buds, because the dew has evaporated. Perfect flower buds have turned snow white and are a certain length. Picking ends around 4pm, and flower buds are brought to the factory. Flowers are kept in a room around 100F to encourage aroma. Ideally, the flower buds begin to open before the scenting begins. In the evening, room temperature zao bei base tea is mixed into piles with jasmine flower buds.
The zao bei and jasmine buds commingle in a pile for six hours with in internal temperature of about 113F. The increased heat encourages the flower buds to open, releasing perfume, promoting a moisture transfer between the flower and base tea. Workers adjust the tea piles to sync with the ambient temperature in the room. If the base tea overheats, a bitter flavor develops. After about six hours, the tea piles are flattened, allowing the leaves to breathe. Each pile is then reformed for four to six hours of more scenting. After ten to twelve hours, the flowers are sifted out. The tea rests for a day and then fresh flowers starts process again.
High grade jasmine teas are scented over five times. Standard jasmine teas are scented two or three times. At the end of scenting, the tea is fired one last time to seal in the flavor. Premium jasmine tea has a shelf life of about three years. Lower quality jasmine teas stay fresh for about a year and a half.
Brew jasmine tea similar to green tea. Bring filtered or spring water to an almost boil. Use 2-3 teaspoons in an infuser or tea filter for every 8 oz. of water. Brew for 3-5 minutes. Pour in your favorite cup and enjoy. You can brew the same leaves over three times.