Among all the tea lovers in the world that I meet, the first tea they often mention is “Jasmine” tea. It is in the menu of all the Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. So many people know its name, but will you ever wonder: “What am I really drinking? Jasmine or tea?”
Jasmine tea, or, in Cantonese, Heung Peen (which means “fragrant leaves”) is, in fact, green tea scented with jasmine flowers. It comes from the Dai Bak tea tree varietal, which is found in Fuding, Fujian province, where the fresh leaves are also made into white and red teas. During spring, from April to May, sprouting needles and leaves are picked every morning, brought down to the factory, then left in the shade to dry and cool off. After that, they are heat set in the oven, preventing fermentation. After this stage, the tea is immediately transported to the markets or stored and refrigerated to keep it fresh.
When the time for picking and processing of the green tea is over, the teas are sent to Guangxi for another stage of processing - scenting. Pre-bloom jasmine flowers are picked during the day, and will partly open in the evening. The jasmine buds are mixed into the green leaves, where they will slowly release their fragrance, with the leaves “breathing in” the aroma. The tea and flowers are left together overnight, and the wilted flowers are blown away the next morning.
High quality jasmine green tea has to go through at least three rounds of scenting to achieve long lasting aromas and flavours. Unfortunately, few restaurants are willing to spend that little extra to serve tea of this quality.
There is also an extravagant presentation of jasmine green teas - handcrafted blooming flower teas. Green silver needles (tea buds) and green tea leaves are tied or threaded together in a bouquet, along with jasmine but also other flowers such as lilies, carnations, thistles and so on. The bouquet is then shaped into a bead or other form with the help of an elastic cloth, then scented 6 times with Jasmine flowers.
It takes about one and a half days to finish a single round of scenting, so it will take at least nine to complete the entire scenting process, but it’s well worth the wait when you see how amazing the tea is as it gradually “blossoms” in hot water.
When choosing jasmine green tea, it is worth noting that the good ones are naturally flowery, have a sweet aroma, and a moderate to strong, but never bitter, taste; in general, those with more silver needles will taste gentler than those with more leaves.
When choosing blooming teas, besides considering the blooming effect, give them a sniff – some merchants skip the scenting process to lower costs. So make sure you smell jasmine, or you could end up having one that looks beautiful but does not have the aroma and taste of jasmine flowers.
Jasmine green teas are good for a cooling and relaxing afternoon with friends, and is a great palate cleanser before your hearty meals.