Last week, we looked at some of the problems with flavored teas in the tea market. Between questionable additives, use of inferior teas, unnatural or overpowering flavors, and inflated pricing, it can be difficult finding a good flavored tea.
Some people end up compromising, accepting one or more of the drawbacks just to have some kind of flavored tea, while others swear off flavored tea altogether. The good news is that you don’t have to do either! However, whether you’re a tea purist or a flavored tea enthusiast, it is possible to have a high-quality, naturally flavored tea that has all of the benefits with none of the drawbacks!
Flavored tea is not a new idea. Tea masters and artisans have been experimenting with tea blends for centuries. To create a tea blend, an artisan finds other kinds of ingredients that can supplement the taste of the tea. Such ingredients can range from natural, unprocessed foods that are usually dried out to more artificial foods, such as bits and pieces of candy or nuts that have been dipped in high-fructose corn syrup. When selecting a tea blend, it is important to know exactly what has been added to the tea to make sure one is drinking a good one.
One common tea blend today is known as genmaicha, which usually involves taking Japanese green tea, typically sencha, and adding toasted-brown rice to create a nice, nutty and roasted flavor that complements the green tea. At MeiMei Fine Teas, we have found a genmaicha tea that takes it a step further, blending some matcha into the tea as well. Our Matcha-Infused Genmaicha not only presents you with the toasted rice flavor genmaicha drinkers love, but by adding matcha to it as well, you reap the benefits of drinking matcha while adding a pleasing umami savouriness to the tea.
A close cousin to flavored tea is scented tea. To create a scented tea, rather than add any additional ingredients to the tea as in the case of tea blends, the tea leaves are exposed to an aroma that they absorb. Sometimes this process involves adding an oil, as in the case with the classic Earl Grey black tea, which uses bergamot oil to scent the tea leaves. Another popular scented tea today is jasmine green tea. It is simple and elegant, but to do it well, it requires a master’s touch. Because it can take time or be a little labor-intensive, some vendors attempt to take a shortcut when scenting jasmine teas by using extracts or artificial oils, and so it can be difficult to find a tea that has been scented traditionally.
The practice of using jasmine flowers to scent tea is believed to have started as early as the 5th century AD, and while many jasmine teas can be found in today’s market, too often an inferior tea is used or the flavor of the green tea is overpowered by the scent of jasmine. Good jasmine tea should find that perfect balance between the scent of jasmine and the flavor of green tea. It takes a master’s touch to determine how much the tea should be scented. While some jasmine teas have been scented seven to nine times, with the right green tea and the right tea master, that balance between the taste of tea and aroma of jasmine can still be achieved.
Our Bi Tan Piao Xue finds exactly this balance. Using a high-quality Sichuan green tea, this jasmine tea has been scented with jasmine flowers five times, ensuring that enthusiasts will be able to enjoying a refreshing cup of green tea complemented by a lovely jasmine aroma.
Another kind of “flavored tea” is the popular Lapsang Souchong, which is a scented tea that similarly boasts a long history like jasmine tea. Lapsang is a black tea that is deliberately smoked for a unique flavor. Also like jasmine tea, a good Lapsang should try to find that balance between smoky scent and preserving the flavor of the black tea itself. Too many inferior Lapsangs in the market are charred and burned, leaving the tea without any flavor but tar and smoke.
For this reason, we sought out a very traditional Lapsang Souchong known as Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. Hailing from Tong Mu Guan village, the origin of this legendary tea, it is gently and carefully smoked with local Wuyi mountain pinewood. The result is a fantastic dance between the flavors of the black tea and a touch of relaxing pinewood aroma. It is perfect for everything from a cold Autumn night to a full, hearty dinner.
In addition to using flowers or smoking, one can also use fruit to enhance the flavor of tea. As opposed to introducing freeze-dried or candied fruits, a new method can involve placing tea leaves in the shell of a fruit so that they absorb some of the aromas from it.
We are excited to offer two teas that use this method with a Xinhui mandarin shell. The first is our Xinhui Mandarin black tea, which uses high-quality Yunnan black tea, and the second is our 2007 Xinhui Mandarin Gongting Puerh aged tea, which uses the highest grade leaf available, a Gong Ting shu puerh leaf. Both give you a delightful combination of tea complemented by the citrus notes from the mandarin. What is nice about both of these teas is that they are especially fun to prepare since they remain in a Xinhui mandarin shell. While you can certainly prepare the tea by gently scooping the leaves from the mandarin shell, it is customary to break a few pieces of the shell and infuse them along with the tea, enhancing the citrus notes a little more.
These are some of the ways that you can enjoy flavored tea, regardless of whether you consider yourself a purist or are simply a flavored tea fanatic looking for something a little more natural. We sometimes fail to appreciate that these really are not only flavored teas, but they’re the best kind available!