Jasmine PearlJasmine tea is extremely popular, not only in our own teahouse but also around the world. While most mixtures of tea and other plants are modern and not quite perfected, jasmine tea has a history that will impress the most stiff-necked tea snob. It was invented in China during the Song dynasty, which ruled from 960 to 1279AD, and was the first scented tea.

In the modern age of industrial production and widespread wealth some corners do get cut. A lot of jasmine tea is now made simply by taking some mid-grade tea leaves, spritzing them with jasmine oils, tossing the result in teabags and calling it a day. But for good jasmine tea, like we sell, the traditional method is still used, and it is quite the process. First the tea is picked and processed as usual. For high-grade jasmine tea, obviously some good tea is made. It can be any kind you like, but is most often green. We also carry a really spiffy silver needle jasmine, though, which I sometimes get out and stare at because it is just so pretty. That doesn’t actually have anything to do with the jasmine, though. They just started with some really nice tea.

The next step is the jasmine flowers, and here we get fancy. Jasmine flowers bloom at night, opening around sunset and closing again by the morning. To make tea, the flowers are picked during the day and tossed in with the tea leaves from the last paragraph, and sometimes stirred around a great deal. Then they are allowed to sit together overnight. The flowers, even though they’ve been picked, still open up as the air cools, and the tea soaks all the fragrance up. Tea is very hygroscopic, which is your awesome word for the day so go use it in a sentence, it means that it is very good at soaking up moisture, including the fragrance. This is why it’s so important to store your tea in airtight containers, because usually you don’t want it picking up every scent in the room! But in making jasmine tea it’s a good trait. The tea soaks up the scent so well that the flowers are totally spent afterwards. The light flowers are blown out of the mixture with huge fans, and then often fed to pigs because there’s nothing left; all the scent is now in the tea.Silver Needle Jasmine

This process is repeated at least twice, and often many more times. Usually a 4:1 ratio of flowers:tea leaves by weight ends up being used! Once the tea producers feel their tea is scented enough the tea has to be dried again, because it’s absorbed so much water from the flowers. For our most popular jasmine, Jasmine Pearl, they roll them up into the little pearls by hand before the last drying. In high-grade versions, all the flowers are removed, but sometimes a few flowers will be left in for decoration.

Fujian province, the source of our jasmine tea, is considered the best at making it. Jasmine plants grow well there, producing large and fragrant blossoms. The tea plants do well, too, which is critical. The jasmine has a gentling effect on the tea, making the result smoother, sweeter, and a bit gentler on the stomach, but to get a really top quality jasmine tea all the ingredients have to be the best.

While a lot of teas that are mixed with some other plant are flavored teas, jasmine tea is actually scented. When you lean over your cup and take a deep breath it smells like a jasmine plant, perhaps with the bright flower scent gentled and rounded a little by the tea. Plug your nose and take a sip, and it is a slightly sweet cup of tea. But unless you’re drinking your tea with a nasty cold, the scent and flavor of the tea mix while you drink it, combining elegantly into a fun but still refined cup of tea.

Elizabeth Deacon, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff