Sunday, September 16, 2007

Making Traditional Jasmine Tea


[[from an email to corax. text and photograph used by permission.]]

One of the most widely-enjoyed teas in the world -- jasmine tea -- is no longer what it used to be. Jasmine tea has been in the cup of tea drinkers for many decades, but there are several reasons why naturally-scented jasmine tea is not made for wide consumption.

Originally, jasmine tea was made with any of three different teas: Mao Jian (green tea), Long Zhu (green tea), and Bai Hao Yin Zhen (white tea). These teas can come from almost all the provinces of China where tea is cultivated, such as Fu Jian, Guang Dong, Zhe Jiang, Si Chuan, An Hui, Yun Nan ...

The difficulty residing in making traditional jasmine tea is a matter of materials, skills and time. It takes an astonishing four kilos of fresh jasmine flowers to scent just one kilo of tea leaves! As if picking four kilos of flowers for each kilo of tea weren't already enough, the blossoms must be picked at a specific time of day. The tradition requires the pickers to harvest the flowers during the day of "bloomation" -- but before the blooms have actually opened (see the photograph above). Once back home and after a rest, the blooms will open; then the process of scenting the tea can start.

The Process

The tea will be scented over the course of three days, so three scenting sessions are required. The flowers are divided into thirds, with another little portion of them reserved for the final step. On the first day, the first step is to humidify the tea; one-third of the flowers is then added to the tea; the tea and flowers are mixed and then allow to sit overnight. The next day, the tea will be dried in a wok in the same way pan-fired green teas are dried. Once the tea is dried, the flowers are taken out of the tea and the makers can proceed to the next step which is the same one. The tea is humidified again, mixed with the flowers, and allowed to sit overnight. The same steps will be done three times until the third day, when the rest of the flowers that were set aside will be added to the tea. This mixture will be pan-fired to dry it, and then the tea will be stored for one week at least before being sold.

Everything that makes this traditional jasmine tea also explains why such a tea isn't suitable for mass consumption. The large ratio of flowers that must be picked at a specific time; the first scenting step needing to be done the same day; the tea being crafted over the course of three days, and requiring pan-firing to dry it. Even here in Guangzhou, the biggest tea market in the world, to locate genuine traditional jasmine tea is even harder than finding original Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.


perpleXd said...

Very cool. So, how then does the jasmine tea we drink get made?

corax said...

perplexd -- because seb is in china, he is not able to post comments on a blog. but i sent him your question via email, and this was his reply:

In the best case, the tea will be scented with jasmine oil/essence. How many times the tea gets scented with oil, I do not know; but the final step is to add jasmine flowers which will mostly have a decorative purpose.

cha ching said...

I was under the impression that the higher the quality of jasmine tea, the less flowers you will find in it. Also, I thought the best jasmine tea was made by picking tea (and jasmine) in August when aromatic oils are at their peak, then put though a series of scenting with alternating racks of jasmine, tea, jasmine, tea....

Sunil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.