loose-leaf tea steepedAt Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, we get an enormous number of calls from tea drinkers asking what “natural” as in “natural flavors” means.  Tea drinkers are increasingly aware that “natural” is a loose term that can mean almost anything – and they are right.

The FDA loopholes on flavorings are vast, rendering the term “natural” meaningless if there is no organic certification attached that ensures auditing of ingredients and labeling laws.  Organic certification ensures auditing, a level of checks and balances that would not otherwise be implemented regarding tea production.

Standards committees at retailers have created lists of chemicals that are not allowed in the products they sell, but there is not a standards committee verifying that manufacturers’ ingredients are free of these chemicals.  The only way to ensure you are not ingesting chemicals when sipping flavored teas is to buy flavored teas that are certified organic.

The history of flavored teas began in China with the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906), during which teas were flavored with plum juice, cloves, ginger, peppermint, onions, and salts.

The Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) began the use of essential oils in tea – lightly blending their leaves with essences of lotus, jasmine petals, and chrysanthemum.  According to The Book of Tea, the higher classes preferred scented and flavored teas, showing themselves to be more adventurous in taking tea.

According to The Sage Report’s US Tea is Hot Report:

“For every ten pounds sold of the higher end specialty teas – those selling over thirty dollars per pound – one hundred pounds of specialty flavored tea reaches US consumers’ cups.  The middle tea market…flavored, delicious, aromatic and nicely packaged, will outpace the growing but supply-restricted (annual output for the next 5-10 years) stocks of unflavored, long leaf, orthodox teas.  Purists may cringe, but the mega-marketers are gearing up for a specialty tea future that is flavored, flowered and spiced.”

tea blendsFlavor Terminology

To clarify flavor terminology for our tea drinkers, I use the following descriptions:

Artificial Flavor:  A flavor derived from 100% synthetic materials (not found in nature), such as Ethyl Vanillin, which is listed on the ingredients statement of some milk chocolate bars.

Nature-Identical Flavor:  A term used mostly in Europe.  All ingredients are man-made, but are also found naturally occurring in nature.  An example is vanillin, which occurs naturally as white crystals on a vanilla bean after curing.  Vanillin also has a nature-identical version (artificial) derived through the processing of lignin, which is a by-product of paper manufacturing and is an economical source of man-made vanillin.  Man-made vanillin has the same chemical structure as natural vanilla.  However, due to the fact it does not come from a natural source, it is termed NATURE-IDENTICAL.  Both categories – ARTIFICIAL and NATURE-IDENTICAL – are coded in the United States as ARTIFICIAL.

Natural & Artificial Flavor:  A flavor derived from natural and artificial ingredients.

Natural Flavor:  A flavor derived 100% from the title material. An example would be a Natural Cherry Flavor, which is derived entirely from cherries.  (Many companies use this term for any and all types of flavors.)

Natural WONF Flavor:  This flavor must contain at least one ingredient from the title source, such as cherry.  All other ingredients must come from other natural sources.

Natural Flavor Blend Flavor:  All ingredients in this flavor must be natural, but none are derived from the title material.  A Cherry Type Flavor, NFB is derived from 100% natural chemicals, essential oils, oleoresins, floral absolutes, solid extracts, fluid extracts, distillates, juices, and essences, but none of these ingredients are derived from cherries.

How Flavors are Created

Natural flavors are usually distilled, while artificial flavors are a blend of chemical compounds, even plastics!  An example of an artificial flavor carrying agent is Propylene Glycol, which is a colorless, viscous, hygroscopic liquid.  It serves as a humectant – a substance that retains moisture content.  It makes the skin feel moist and soft and keeps products from drying out.

Propylene Glycol is used in anti-freeze, brake and hydraulic fluid, de-icers, paints and coatings, floor wax, laundry detergents, and tobacco, as well as in cosmetics, toothpastes, shampoos, deodorants, lotions, processed food, dog food, and many more personal care products.

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Propylene Glycol states:

“Implicated in contact dermatitis, kidney damage and liver abnormalities; can inhibit skin cell growth in human tests and can damage cell membranes causing rashes, dry skin and surface damage.

Acute Effects:  May be harmful by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption.  May cause eye irritation, skin irritation, gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache and vomiting, and central nervous system depression.”

containers of tea blendsNatural Carrying Agent – Alcohol

Alcohol has been made for thousands of years – it’s a compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, produced when glucose is fermented by yeast.  During the making of alcoholic drinks, the alcohol content is controlled by the amount of yeast and the duration of fermentation.

Fruits are used to make wines and ciders, and cereals, such as barley and rye, form the basis of beers and spirits.  These substances provide the flavor associated with each individual drink.  Alcohol bases evaporate during the blending process, leaving the flavor behind to work its magic on our taste buds.

Shelf Life:  Natural flavors last up to one year under favorable storage methods, while artificial flavors last two solid years.  Essential oils like Earl Grey’s oil of Bergamot will only last 4-8 months, while natural raspberry is reported to last only 2 weeks.

Volatility:  Natural flavors tend to be more volatile than artificial.  This means that they evaporate more quickly and are changeable and inconsistent – in one word, fickle.

Scent Effects

Natural scents and flavors can enhance and change moods, like clinical aromatherapy, while artificial flavors do not have the same olfactory effects.  Basically, natural flavors contain the sunshine, while artificial flavors made in a lab lack it.  I call my blends, “Sunshine in a cup,” due to their pure flavors.  Here are some great aromatherapy benefits when using real essential oils.  You can view my aromatherapy chart for tea blending at gypsytea.com.

1.    Bergamot oil reduces appetite.
2.    Jasmine, Cardamom, Cinnamon, and O
range Blossom are all aphrodisiacs.
3.    Bergamot, Lemon, and Rose are antiviral.
4.    Bergamot, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Lavender, Orange, and Lemon Verbena are antidepressants.
5.    Cardamom, Juniper, Lemongrass, and Rosemary alleviate boredom and stimulate mental clarity and attentiveness.
6.    Fennel, Lime, and Lemon are great detoxifiers.
7.    Anise, Bergamot, Cardamom, Fennel, and Rosemary aid digestion.
8.    Rose, Jasmine, and Grapefruit induce euphoric emotions.
9.    Emotional coldness can be warmed by using Black Pepper, Ginger, and Grapefruit.
10.    Jasmine, Lavender, and Lemon relieve headaches.
11.    Chamomile and Lavender are for sleep.
12.    Menopausal hot flashes can be lessened with Fennel and Roman Chamomile.
13.    Poor memory is helped with Cardamom, Peppermint, and Lemongrass.
14.    Bad breath is lessened with Bergamot, Cardamom, and Peppermint.
15.    Bergamot, Chamomile, Grapefruit, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon and Lemongrass, Orange Rose, Pine, and Tangerine are all used to east tension and stress.
16.    PMS is helped by Bergamot, Rose, and Tangerine!

Here’s to your health, dear tea drinker!  I hope this helped you gain the knowledge to be empowered to make the best choices for you and your health when it comes to flavored and scented tea options.