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Jasmine teas: end of a season and a little known fact

by Lydia Kung

With September, for one tea category, it means the end of jasmine scenting.

Posts from summer 2017 describe and illustrate the scenting process in making jasmine green teas. Here is a brief refresher:

The white blossoms thrive in summer’s heat, which makes for taxing work for the pickers.

An experienced worker can collect 1 kg in about half an hour. These pickers perform pruning and maintenance tasks or work at other farms during the rest of the year.

Scenting may take a week or as long as a month, depending on weather. On rainy days, no scenting will be done. Once scenting begins for one lot of tea, the work must continue on consecutive days. Given the reliance on dry sunny weather, scenting is not a process that can be rushed, and in some instances, we did not receive samples of certain standards until late August.

Guangxi province in the southwest dominates jasmine scenting; it now has more jasmine gardens than other tea growing provinces traditionally known for this tea, such as Fujian. Green teas from other provinces collected in the spring are processed to stabilize moisture level, and are sent to Guangxi to receive the white blossoms. Picture, then, the many tons of green tea of various grades converging on jasmine gardens and factories in the height of summer. The work of scenting is mainly concentrated around one small city, Hengxian, where there is an annual jasmine tea festival, with a demo at the site shown at left.

Plucked jasmine buds bloom in the late afternoon or early evening, so this means night shifts of about 8 hours.

In the case of jasmine pearls, because they are already rolled, longer scenting is required to infuse each hand-rolled pearl with jasmine.

There are a few high end jasmine teas to which freshly dried blossoms are added to the finished tea, as a visual enhancement. These are flowers that hadn’t been used in scenting. In the finished tea, the intact flowers hold little fragrance.

For most jasmine teas from about the 2nd grade up, the spent blossoms are removed by sifting machines with large mesh trays, leaving spent flowers on the trays and the scented tea underneath. Restaurant grade tea will show more petals and flowers. In contrast, hardly any petals are to be found in a Jasmine Silver Needle White or among Jasmine Pearls.

A lesser known step in jasmine processing is that of prepping the tea by adding magnolia flowers. The amount is small but important in preparing the tea base before jasmine is added. For higher grade jasmine teas, only 1 kg of magnolia is used per 100 kgs of tea. A high grade of jasmine pearls will have only used about 0.8 kg of magnolia. More magnolia is used for lower grades of jasmine, 1.5 kg to 2 kg per 100 kgs of tea.

This traditional step is called 玉兰打底,[magnolia da di]. Think of this as a primer before jasmine scenting. What this first step does is to allow the tea material to better absorb the aroma of fresh jasmine and to help the tea leaves retain the jasmine aroma longer.

Contrary to what one might assume, jasmine tea is not the favorite among Guangxi people. In terms of domestic consumption in China, jasmine tea is most popular among northerners.

(Note: jasmine teas in our line-up are flower scented only, without essence or flavoring added.)

September 7, 2018