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.
Looking for other teas that paint a unique aromatic picture with special additions?
Definitely check out any of these beautiful teas:
- Tea + Flowers Tasting Kit
This bundle includes four 25g bags of scented + blended floral tea for 100g total (about 20 sessions). This special tasting kit includes hand picked white, black, and green teas scented traditionally with beautiful jasmine and osmanthus flowers. Each tea is scented traditionally - without artifical or added aromas or flavorings - using simply the natural fragrance of the blended jasmine or osmanthus flowers. These traditional methods produce teas that are full and rich, with brews that hold their intense sweetness and natural potency over many steepings.Regular Price $48.50 $41.22
- 2023 Osmanthus Scented Dragonwell
For the second year, Li Xiaoping has set aside her beautifully-crisp textural masterpiece that is Shi Feng Dragonwell and scents it with fresh osmanthus blossoms. Her incredible plot sits on a quartz-laden rocky hillside in the tiny Shi Feng microclimate, where sweet mountain spring water, designated national treasure protection from development, and misty mornings yield sweet clean nuanced green tea that sets the standard for all green tea in China. With such famous and in demand tea, it is remarkable that Li Xiaoping is still incentivized to do such bold experiments like this osmanthus scenting, but we're so happy she did! The results are spectacular, and perfectly balanced. The osmanthus notes are light, accentuating the natural sweet juicy qualities of the Dragonwell.
- Wood-Fired Reserve Laoshan Osmanthus Black
The He Family is known for their bold willingness to innovate, and this singular tea is a perfect example of the way they push the boundaries of genre. Wild-picking Laoshan osmanthus and using it to scent buddy resrev-level black tea is still a new craft in Laoshan, just a few years old, but the results have been spectacular, juicy, a and almost oolong-like. This year, He Qingqing wanted to push the idea of oolong inspiration, borrowing roasting craft from Wuyishan and giving her family's black tea a special secondary wood-firing to bring out deep toasty depth. The results really are in the style of teas like Tieluohan. Instead of overwhelming the osmanthus, the roast balances it, adding depth to the honeyed dessert-like qualities of the He Family's black tea.
Aroma cups are a fantastic way to explore the aromatic landscapes of tea.
Explore our aroma cup collection:
- 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.$28.00
- Blue 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.
- 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