Flavored teas have become increasingly popular in the tea marketplace. Florals, fruits, and spices are everywhere you look. This is not a new phenomenon, though, nor are all flavored teas created equal.
There is a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention.” I counter that saying with “happy accidents are the mother of invention (followed up by a lot of hard work)” — not as catchy but more accurate quite often. Some examples of such “happy accidents” are glass (first formed by fisherman and others who built campfires on beaches and then saw clumps of glass formed from the heat on the sand) and penicillin (found on some bread that had gone moldy).
Flavored tea came about, at least according to one Chinese legend, in a similar “happy accident” sort of way. Han Hsiang Tzu, the patron god of flowers and poetry, and one of the Eight Immortals, is portrayed as having a basket of flowers and a jade flute which magically commands sea dragons. He is supposed to have guided tea growers in the early days of man drinking tea to use fruit trees and flowering trees as shade for their tea gardens. The flavors of peach, apricot, and plum would permeate the tea leaves, as would the fragrance of magnolias, sweet orchids, and other flowers.
These “happy accidents” lead to purposeful action. Once an effect is known, people can repeat it with intent. The gardeners, observing the flavors imparted to the teas, started purposely planting these trees around the tea gardens.
Another example is Lapsang Souchong with its smoky flavor, supposedly coming initially from pinewood campfires of the caravan traders transporting the tea from growers to markets. Now, this flavor comes purposely during the processing of the tea leaves.
Some flavors, like the above, are processed in while others are added “after the fact.” The finest jasmine teas are made with real jasmine petals spread out with the tea leaves and left to wither with them, imparting their fragrance to the tea. I’ve tasted a jasmine or two where the vendor added the floral flavoring to already dried tea leaves. The effect is definitely not the same. It’s sort of like chocolate chip cookies where the chips are baked in (all melted and gooey) versus plain cookies with a chocolate chip or two being stuck on after the cookies are baked.
Not only is when and how the flavoring gets applied important, but the type of flavoring makes a difference. Flavoring oils are becoming quite common, but many vendors prefer to use real ingredients, from real flower petals and bits of fruit to real spices and even mini-chocolate chips.
Madagascar vanilla beans grace Golden Moon’s Madagascar Vanilla Tea. Tiny white chocolate chips abound in Night of the Iguana Chocolate Chai. Real flower petals are sewn together with tea leaves in most blooming teas, such as the 3 Flower Burst Green Flowering Tea.
The difference between a tea flavored with and oil versus one with real pieces of “stuff” is not always that big. There is one important difference, though. When real bits of fruit, spices, etc., are in the tea, a second infusion will usually have some of that flavoring in it. Teas flavored with oils will usually not have that flavor come through in a second infusion. If, like me, you have that pioneer spirit, you will want to pay a bit more for the flavored tea that can give you a tasty second infusion.
Either way, lots of choices await you with new flavors being developed every day, like my “dunking for apples” flavored tea shown above. Enjoy!
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