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All Tea is Scented Tea

All Tea is Scented Tea

All Tea is Scented Tea

exploring craft & terroir in jasmine teas

September 28, 2022

Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter

This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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Here’s a musing - all tea is scented tea.

With both Yunnan Golden Jasmine and Yunnan White Jasmine back, my morning gaiwan got me thinking about this issue as I enjoy the deep aromatics of these teas. It is easy to think of jasmine like this as different from “traditional” teas, but I am not sure how clean of a line you can draw.

First off, how are these two jasmine teas made? Wild jasmine is picked right as it begins to flower, and then the blossoms are spread among the buddy tea so that its deep sweet honeyed aroma can be absorbed into the tea itself. This labor-intensive process is repeated several times to ensure that the tea has truly taken in the full complexity of the jasmine. The result is deep, sweet, lingering and beautiful.

Yet is this deliberate and meticulous craft unique to these hand-made jasmine teas? I would venture to say that any tea grown outside of a vacuum is scented.

Consider the deep aromatics that a place can bring to the table. I was just reading an exploration of the concept of “garrigue” in wine, and it identifies Alpha-Pinene volatile aromatics from other plants as a major influencing factor in creating the “garrigue” flavor profile. These volatile aromatics become airborne and attach to the surface of grapes to be extracted by alcohol during fermentation.

In tea, since the entire leaf is brewed, any volatile aromatics (like alpha-pinene) that were present in the growing region are going to be present in the cup. So imagine being in a beautiful place like Wuyishan where you can smell fresh bamboo, pine, wet rock, citrus and juniper in the air. These aromas inevitably become part of teas like Big Red Robe. Or in Qianjiazhai where wild tulsi grows between the rocks, only to show up in the flavor of their sheng pu’er.

the Li Family's home in Tongmu Guan
tulsi and other aromatic plants growing wild in Qianjiazhai

This is scenting in its natural state.

"But wait!" you might say - jasmine is different because it is deliberate scenting instead of the result of its environment. But let’s think about deliberateness in tea craft. As we’ve explored, craft extends beyond the workshop and into the fields. One of the biggest and most important decisions for a tea craftsperson is deciding which varietals to grow and what to do with them. An agricultural craftsperson can deliberately choose teas that pair well with the conditions of their land. The soil and weather to be sure, but also the aromatic bouquet at different times of year. This is “scenting” the terroir with the right tea instead of adding aroma to a tea.

Jasmine is an interesting case because it is an opportunity for a craftsperson to fine-tune the aromatic environment, opening new doors to exploration and showing off new perspectives. A similar effect could be possible if the tea were growing and finished in an abundant jasmine-filled landscape. By adding even more jasmine than tea could be exposed to in the fields, a farmer-craftsperson is able to paint a picture more heightened than reality allows. In this case, the idea of scenting through terroir is extended into envisioning dreamscapes - places of abundant honeyed jasmine vines, petals falling in the sun.

Understanding scenting as an extension of tea’s expression of place in the hands of a master craftsperson helps take me to real places I love, like the mountaintops of Qianjiazhai through my gaiwan, but it also helps transport me to luscious dreamscapes evoked by this jasmine.

Yunnan Golden Jasmine and Yunnan White Jasmine are two outstanding examples of scenting craft, and worth a deep look.

Looking for other teas that paint a unique aromatic picture with special additions? 

Definitely check out any of these beautiful teas:

Aroma cups are a fantastic way to explore the aromatic landscapes of tea.

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