May 20, 2010 by bethanjthomas
I should caveat this post by explaining that I work as a brand manager for a boutique tea company called JING (www.jingtea.com).
The following ramblings could be accused of corporate product placement or biased promotion, but you can only take my word that it isn’t intended that way! One of the benefits of my job is that I get to travel to visit our producers and I can’t help but want to write about it. I hope that this doesn’t undermine or bias the following post, but as a tea obsessive, the last trip that I made to do this was to see our jasmine tea production blew my mind…
I have never knowingly seen jasmine plants or blossoms, and going to see JING’s jasmine silver needle and jasmine pearls be scented was an eye opening experience.
Much of the jasmine tea that I drank growing up was unbeknownst to me scented with flavourings and oils. However, JING’s jasmine teas are all scented with fresh flowers. Jasmine flowers are found in Guanxi province in the far south of China, where along with sugar cane and sweetcorn they make up the main export commodities of the region.
The countryside in Guanxi is scattered with vividly green jasmine fields. Unlike tea bushes the plants don’t require a slope to grow on and are found at low altitude. Small buds of jasmine are scattered across the bushes, and men and women with metallic wide brimmed hats hand pick the buds from branches, placing them into bags attached to their belts.
An open jasmine flower can not be used to scent tea leaves, and a small yellow bud will not flavour the tea either. The workers carefully pick only the large white buds which once plucked will open a few hours later in the evening and release their scent. Over 3 kilograms of fresh flowers are needed to scent 1 kilogram of tea.
I had expected the fields to smell overpoweringly of jasmine, but the fragrance was subtle as the majority of buds had been picked before they blossomed. In stark contrast, the factory where the green and white tea is scented had a beautifully strong jasmine aroma once we arrived at dusk.
JING’s jasmine pearls and silver needle white tea leaves were laid out at 7 o’clock in the evening once the fresh flowers, picked earlier that morning, had reached the building. The evening is the best time for scenting as the temperature drops slightly and the flowers open. As flowers were placed on top of the tea leaves, they slowly disappeared under a snow like layer of buds and jasmine scent filled the room.
Each of our jasmine teas are scented with fresh flowers for 5 consecutive nights, but when the flowers are first placed on the leaf they are left for 3 days. The tea leaves are incredibly dry compared to the flowers and over the 3 days they absorb the moisture from the flowers and absorb the jasmine flavour more effectively on the following 4 nights.
I tentatively placed my hand into the middle of the tea and flower mix and was shocked by the heat contained within. Our farmer explained to me that the tea leaves will reach 40 degrees after 6 hours of scenting and must be turned by hand to cool them down and ensure that all the leaves are scented equally by the flowers.
As the temperature reached 30 degrees in the scenting room, strong men came to turn the leaves, straining with effort. The smell was incredible and putting the leaves to my nose it was amazing how effectively the flavour had already been absorbed.
My hands smelt of jasmine as I washed them that evening, such great aroma coming from the tiny buds, and it seemed a shame to wash it away!
The next morning I returned to the factory to see the sorting of the tea leaves. You’ll notice that there are virtually no flower petals in the teas JING produces, and this is because each morning after a night of scenting, the flowers are separated from the tea leaves and the leaves and dried to help them to retain the jasmine aroma.
The tea in front of me was only being scented for the first time, but a batch had been made before I arrived and I drank this with my hosts in the cool breeze of a fan next to the scenting room. The silver needle leaves created a beautifully clear infusion and the soft yet full jasmine aroma came through with each sip. It is certainly easy to see that the painstaking effort of picking, scenting and drying the leaves was worth it! It was incomparable to the jasmine teas of my childhood, which smelt faintly of jasmine but tasted of water with a hint of tannic green tea. It is truly a piece of artisan skill to produce such beautiful flavour.