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.
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:
- Black Tea Stuffed MandarinWhile pu’er stuffed citrus has been taking off in popularity across China, Xingyang is exploring the black tea and citrus pairing in this inspired little mandarin orange. The rich savory flavor of the Yunnan Black pairs with the bright tropical citrus perfectly. Early steepings are rich and tropical with brown sugar and tangerine citrus dominating, while later steepings become cozy and full of cinnamon orange spice as the black tea starts to dominate.$3.00
- 2022 Tea Flower Gu Hua Sheng
Gu Hua is Master Zhou’s favorite tea harvest, a small picking from 100 to about 400 year old tea trees that the cooperative does in early autumn as the weather shifts and the nights are cool again. This tea is rich, fruity, juicy and incredibly sweet. It almost drinks like jasmine tea! The tea flowers add a texture and honeyed sweetness. The tea itself was pressed into a cake in an old-school carved stone mold, weighted with a block. No hydraulic press used here! This means looser compression for even and beautiful aging.$19.75
- Qianjiazhai Gong Ting Shu + Tea Flower Cake
Qianjiazhai Gong Ting Shu Pu'er is still a very new practice, made only by one of Master Zhou's students in the cooperative. Using the giant buds of QIanjiazhai's wild trees between 100 and three hundred years of age, this tea is carefully and slowly pile fermented to bring out a deep rich sweetness.
This new blend of 2014 gong ting shu pu'er and Autumn 2020 tea flowers was pressed in the cooperative's small 100g cake stone mold. This is the first time Master Zhou has pressed tea flowers with Gong Ting Shu in a cake, and the result is a beautiful visual contrast. The floral boost to the textural complexity and nuance of this budset shu pu’er is a welcome addition. The clean natural fermentation preserves the herbaceousness of the tea, and the florals bring it out even further.$17.50
Aroma cups are a fantastic way to explore the aromatic landscapes of tea.
Explore our aroma cup collection:
- Purple Gilded Aroma Cup SetThis elegant aroma cup set is hand made in Longquan and completed with a bamboo saucer. These new designs represent the latest from Xiang Fu, and their line of gilded gaiwans & cups were celebrated with great excitement when they premiered at the autumn Xiamen Tea Expo in 2015. These are designed for serious tea lovers - from the wen xiang bei's innovative interior flare to the bright white interiors, these pieces are built to make it easier than ever to appreciate your favorite teas.$14.00
- Yellow Gilded Aroma Cup SetThis elegant aroma cup set is hand made in Longquan and completed with a bamboo saucer. These new designs represent the latest from Xiang Fu, and their line of gilded gaiwans & cups were celebrated with great excitement when they premiered at the autumn Xiamen Tea Expo in 2015. These are designed for serious tea lovers - from the wen xiang bei's innovative interior flare to the bright white interiors, these pieces are built to make it easier than ever to appreciate your favorite teas.$14.00
- Celadon Aroma Cup
This unique shape is wide enough to use as a traditional tea cup, but tall enough to double as a perfect aroma cup. To use an aroma cup, you pour into the tall cup first, then pour from that cup into a wider cup for drinking. Before tasting the tea you take in the beautiful wafting steam from the tall cup that traps the tea’s aroma and primes your pallet for the first sips. Hand-finished and fired in a traditional Longquan kiln, this celadon is highly vitrified like glass, making it a non-reactive material that helps bring out incredible aromatic depth in your tea.Regular Price $28.00 Special Price $22.96
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