To Scent? Or Not to Scent?

By Katie

Have you ever wondered how your favorite cup of Jasmine tea gets its flavor? Or how tea companies get a cup of lavender tea to taste like, well, lavender? The process itself is actually really simple and relies on tea’s hygroscopic “quali-teas.”

Hygroscopic means that a substance easily absorbs moisture and aromas from the air. So, if you placed a cup of plain black tea leaves in a sealed room with orange blossoms, the leaves would eventually absorbed the blossom’s smell and taste like the flower when brewed. This is also why tea is carefully packed and sealed for shipping and selling purposes so that the leaves do not absorb any unwanted ingredients or smells before being brewed.

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Tea plantation in Sri Lanka

There are several different ways of scenting tea, but the same basic process applies. To give tea a specific scent or flavor, it is mixed with various ingredients and allowed to steep in the aroma for some time.

To make scented tea, the leaves are fully dried and poured into a chest. Fresh flowers are then scattered over the leaves and these two components are layered until the chest is full. Afterwards, the chest was closed for 24 hours. The next day, the crisp flowers are filtered out and the aromatized tea is dried out further. This can occur multiple times depending on the desired strength of the flavor.

Another method involves the same layering technique, but instead of placing the tea into a box, the tea is simply laid flat on the ground and piled up to prevent the moisture in the air from reaching most of the tea. With this method, the leaves must be dried longer and it often takes a few more scenting sessions to create the desired taste. With both methods, a small amount of the ingredient used to give the tea its flavor is left in the mixture for color.

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Black tea being scented with Jasmine flowers

Today the method of manually scenting tea is quite expensive and as a result many teas are simply flavored artificially with sprays in order to make a more affordable tea. For example, mass-market bagged teas are usually filled with ‘tea dust’, which are particles of tea so fine that natural scenting is impossible. Often, these artificially flavored teas are also blended with dried flowers to emphasize their intended flavor.

Where exactly does scenting tea come from? In 8th century China, a tea’s natural fragrance was considered ideal without any additional scents. Then during the Yuan Dynasty from 1271 to 1368, the preference for plain tea waned and scented teas grew in popularity.

The most popular scented tea around the world today is Jasmine tea. Typically made with Jasmine flowers and green tea, there are a variety of types to choose from jasmine pearl tea to jasmine oolong. Depending on the quality and type of tea, the leaves can be scented with jasmine flowers anywhere from two to ten times.

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Jasmine flowers

Whether you drink scented tea or prefer just a plain cup of black tea, make sure it’s “fantas-tea-c.”