Whilst we think of it as the favourite drink of the British, tea is the national drink of China. But more than that, it is an important part of the country’s culture and tradition. More than just a drink to be enjoyed, it is often a complete spiritual experience. Myth has it that Emperor and experimenter in herbal medicine, Shennong, discovered tea over 5000 years ago and used it for detoxification. As a drink, it reached its peak during the Yang dynasty.
Specialised, scented (sometimes called “flower”), teas are usually produced from green or white tea; more rarely from black tea as its strong flavour can overpower the delicate flower aroma.
Perhaps the best known scented tea is Jasmine (a favourite of mine, especially when flowers are left in with the leaves as decoration). Other popular flowers used to scent Chinese tea include lotus, rose, magnolia and even chrysanthemum.
The method of production can vary, including spreading the leaves with flowers during oxidation, or by steaming young leaves, thus allowing the tea to absorb the floral scent. As expected, you will find a wide range of different quality teas and indeed, speciality scents can be produced by artificial methods too.
Scented tea is generally most popular in Northern China, but strangely, after a social rebellion, it became to be regarded as a drink for the lower classes!
Although not a “flower tea,” mention should be made of Lapsang Souchong, a black tea smoked-dried over pine needles, to produce that pungent aroma which generally invokes an immediate positive or negative reaction. Since this is a black tea variant, it can be taken with milk to soften the smoky flavour.
Scented teas are best brewed loose and then strained before serving but for convenience, tea balls (referred to as pearls), are often used. When brewing these teas, warm the pot beforehand and use water at just below boiling point. Take care not to steep for too long – around 30 seconds is perhaps the maximum, then enjoy!
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