Ever since returning from China last month Roy has been hard at work finishing up his forthcoming book, Great Teas of China. In this excerpt he discusses traditional jasmine tea. Expected publication date is Q4 of this year. If you'd like to be notified when the book is available, send us an email. If you love fine jasmine tea or have yet to discover this great tea of China, try our Imperial Jasmine Pearls.
Producing fine jasmine tea starts by selecting the best green tea in early spring. Tender leaf buds from Fujian’s Fuding area are considered the best base material for great jasmines. This green tea features nice white tips with good amounts of down that absorb aromatics well; also, the tippy green tea from Fuding is less astringent and well suited for scenting. The spring-harvested leaves are withered indoors, pan-fired to stop oxidation, then rolled into shape and roasted dry. This type of green tea is called hong qing (“roasted green”).
The finished tea is cleaned and sorted into different grades and carefully stored until the jasmine blooms in early summer. When the jasmine harvest begins, unopened flower buds are picked early in the morning and delivered to tea factories in late afternoon (modern factories sometimes buy jasmine blossoms in open wholesale markets). The flowers are laid on the ground to allow them to open naturally. Their high moisture content causes fermentation and heat, which forces the buds open. The piles of flowers are watched carefully to avoid over-fermenting. The flowers are turned and flipped in the air to release moisture and prevent too much heat from accumulating, which would cause the loss of aromatics and “burning” (the flower turning brown). This process generally lasts until very late at night. Finally, when most of the flowers are open, they are machine-sifted to remove unopened buds.
At the same time, the spring-harvested tea is taken from storage and re-roasted to remove staleness and ensure that it’s completely dry and ready to absorb the jasmine fragrance. The flowers are then mixed with freshly fired green tea in small batches. Each batch is watched carefully and turned from time to time to release heat. This process continues through the night, allowing the tea to slowly absorb the nectar and essence of the flowers. The tea and the flowers are separated in the morning. The tea is roasted dry once again to remove the excess moisture received from the flowers and further eliminate some of the leaves’ own astringency. This scenting procedure may be repeated as many as seven times, each time completing a cycle of fluid exchange from the flower to the leaf, ensuring the complete saturation of floral aromatics.
When the scenting is completed a final step called ti hua (“floral pickup”) is done. Ti hua includes a light roasting to reduce moisture to under 5 percent, and the tea is again mixed with freshly opened flowers for a few hours. Ti hua saturates the leaf with floral aromatics externally, to heighten the aromatic appeal. The entire process must be done so that the color of the leaf remains green without losing the white color of the fuzzy tips.
Jasmine teas are often hand-fashioned into various shapes to add visual interest. One of the most popular is called jasmine pearl, or sometimes jasmine dragon phoenix pearl. These small, tightly rolled balls are created in the spring, when the tea is fresh. They’re produced by selecting only spring-harvested single tips (no open leaves). The tips are softened by pan firing, then a few are hand-rolled into a “pearl” shape, held together by the leaves’ juices. The pearls are carefully stored until summer, when jasmine blooms and they can be scented. Sometimes teamakers use long rolls of cotton paper to hand-wrap each individual pearl. They’re eventually unwrapped before scenting.