As I’ve become more knowledgeable about tea, and have learned to enjoy the subtleties of “natural” tea, I do still find a place in my tea cabinet for flavored or scented teas. I know that a lot of true tea connoisseurs draw the line at adding anything to their teas, preferring to enjoy the natural beauty and variety of orthodox teas.
However, I find that a balance between flavored and orthodox teas works best for me. I love the amazing differences in oolong teas – from the darker, smoky, close-to-black-tea versions to the lighter, more vegetal and, in some cases, almost flowery Phoenix oolongs – and rarely (if ever) sample a flavored oolong. Black and green teas, on the other hand, lend themselves more to flavoring and scenting. Even though I have some treasured black and green orthodox teas, I do still love to sample the different blends and flavors that people come up with.
For instance, on my wonderful trip to France this summer, which I’ve written about quite extensively already, I had a lovely afternoon tea with a dear friend of mine in Ladurée. Beyond the fabulous old-world atmosphere, which makes you feel as if you’re dining in someone’s très salle à manger from the 19th Century, they always have an excellent selection of teas to complement their incroyable pastries! This time I chose the Thè Roi Soleil – an “energetic” blend of green tea, bergamot, rhubarb, and caramel. I chose this mainly because I was curious to taste a tea blended with rhubarb, not a vegetable I would naturally associate with a delicate green tea.
The flavor of the tea was amazing – the bergamot provided a light citrus note, while the earthiness of the rhubarb was balanced by the hint of caramel. What could have been an awkward, too-earthy blend turned out to have a light touch, with enough depth to make it grounded. It was a perfect counterpoint to the fruity Saint-Honorè Rose Framboise (rose-raspberry St. Honorè) pastry that I chose.
I have many other tea blends that I like and share with friends. One thing I find is that often people are intimidated by the sheer number of choices they have with tea, and if they can latch onto a flavor that they like – whether it’s citrus, vanilla, or spice – they will be much more open to trying something new. So someone who may think she only likes green tea may try a flavored black tea if the flavor is interesting. Once you have someone hooked on a couple different kinds of tea, it’s much easier to introduce them to the wonders of flavor to be found in orthodox teas! This is where the wonderful descriptions on tea menus come in handy. I never would have thought that an oolong could taste like fresh-baked bread, but I’ve had some that do. There are often fruity or even winey notes in Darjeeling teas, and these can be a great introduction to a new tea lover.
I love to spread the love of tea around the world (or my little part of it) in any way I can, and if flavored teas help me do this, I’m all for them! I may not drink them everyday, but I do enjoy them from time to time, especially if they help me to share the treasure of a cup of tea with a treasured friend.
This post first published 5 September 2012.