Jasmine is a popular tea - it's on the menu in every Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. But what, exactly, is it - jasmine or tea?
Jasmine tea, or, in Cantonese, heung peen (which means "fragrant leaves") is, in fact, green tea scented with jasmine flowers. It comes from the dai bak tea tree, which is found only in Fuding, Fujian province, where the fresh leaves are also made into white and red teas. During spring, from April to May, sprouting needles and leaves are picked every morning, then left in the shade to cool off. Next, the tea is dried in the oven - which prevents fermentation - then immediately transported to the markets or stored and refrigerated to keep it fresh.
The processed green tea is subsequently sent to Guangxi - for scenting. Pre-bloom jasmine flowers are picked during the day and partly open in the evening. Jasmine buds are mixed into the green leaves and slowly release their fragrance, the leaves "breathing in" the aroma. The tea and flowers are left together overnight and the wilted flowers removed the next morning.
High quality jasmine tea goes through at least three rounds of scenting, to achieve long lasting aromas and flavours. Unfortunately, few restaurants are willing to spend that little extra to serve tea of this quality.
One of the most extravagant versions of the drink is handcrafted blooming flower tea. Green silver needles (tea buds) and green tea leaves are tied or threaded together in a bouquet, along with jasmine but also other flowers such as lilies, carnations, thistles and so on. The bouquet is then shaped into a ball and scented no fewer than six times.
It takes about one and a half days to finish a single round of scenting, so it will take at least nine to complete the entire scenting process, but it's well worth the wait when you see how the tea gradually "blossoms" when put in hot water.
When choosing a jasmine green tea, it is worth noting that the good ones are naturally flowery, have a sweet aroma and a moderate to strong, but never bitter, taste; in general, those with more silver needles will taste gentler than those with more leaves.
When choosing blooming teas, besides considering the blooming effect, give them a sniff - some merchants skip the scenting process to lower costs.
Jasmine green tea is great for cooling off in the heat and as a palate cleanser before meals.
Vivian Mak is the founder and owner of the MingCha tea company www.mingcha.com.