Written by Will
Which one will be for you?
It’s Jasmine season in Southern China right now and so the Jasmine scenters in Guangxi are busy selecting their flower buds and working in the cool of the night to make this year’s tea. For quite a few of us at JING, jasmine is the tea that started our journey into the world of single garden tea. But for almost all of us, it’s a tea that reminds us of the buzz and character of Chinese restaurants – busy, noisy tables and rich flavours and aromas – a teapot being refilled again and again and hands wrapping around small cups without handles – often sipping the tea in the hope of tempering some of most powerful flavours.
Jasmine is not one of the six categories of tea such as black, white and green which are defined by how the leaves are processed – but it’s in a category of its own, defined as any tea which has been scented by the sweet, mellow jasmine flower that thrives in warm, balmy summer time.
Our Jasmine Teas
Every year we select two styles of Jasmine tea: Jasmine Silver Needle and Jasmine Pearls. Both are scented naturally in the traditional style, which means having the buds of the jasmine flowers laid over the tea leaves for five consecutive nights so that the natural scent of the flowers is absorbed into the tea. What differentiates them is the base teas onto which the Jasmine is laid. Silver Needle is a light, delicate white tea and the Pearls are green tea leaves rolled into balls. They’re from two different places with different tastes and characters. You won’t find many examples of other types of tea, such as oolong or black tea being scented with jasmine – the green and white categories work well because their natural flavours tend to be floral, grassy and sweet, which complement the natural aromatics of the jasmine.
Let’s compare the character of these two styles of jasmine teas so you can decide which one’s for you.
Jasmine Silver Needle or Jasmine Pearls: The Taste Test
Firstly, let’s take a look at the origin of our two jasmine teas. Jasmine Silver Needle is a white tea from Yinpan Garden in Yunnan, China – an ancient terroir for tea with plenty of high mountains and rich soil. The Silver Needle produced here uses only the tender and juicy buds that appear on the tea bushes in early spring, which are simply picked, withered and dried for a pure, delicate flavour.
Jasmine Pearls however is a green tea from Houping Garden in Fujian, China – an equally celebrated region for tea. These pearls are also produced in spring, using the tea buds with two young leaves for more depth and character. The pickings are then gently withered and fired to stop any oxidation, locking in the vegetal, grassy flavour before being individually hand rolled into pearls.
So, how do they taste? I’ve infused both teas using our glass tea-iere with 4g of leaf and 250ml of water at 80˚C for 3 minutes. To highlight and compare the best of both infusions, the results are split up into 4 easy categories.
Aroma – The fragrance from these teas is remarkable, both the dry and wet leaves (and even the aroma left in the empty tea-iere) are singing with the smell and purity of sweet, floral jasmine. As the infusion cools a little, the Jasmine Silver Needle seems to have the longer lasting fragrance. It’s a little more intense and I’m getting some melon and honey flavours too. Being rolled into small balls, the Jasmine Pearls took longer to unravel and as it cooled, the infusion developed more of a thick, grassy aroma from the green tea. It has a rich profile that balances the intense sweetness of the jasmine.
Taste – Starting with the Jasmine Silver Needle, the flavour is delicate, and the jasmine slowly unravels and coats the mouth creating a sweet, floral taste. It’s a real concentration of jasmine which doesn’t have much else getting in the way of its purity, with the white tea adding a feeling of refreshment. The Jasmine Pearls has a characterful green tea flavour from the first sip. It’s more rounded and satisfyingly grassy and vegetal. The high notes of jasmine also add complexity and balance to the vegetal notes, with plenty of sweetness.
Texture – Both of these teas are very smooth to drink. The main difference is that the Jasmine Silver Needle feels more syrupy – its structure carries the jasmine exceptionally well, which conversely is why I think it makes it such a pure expression (without this syrupy texture from the white tea, drinking just dried jasmine flowers would be watery or insipid). The Jasmine Pearls feels relatively thicker and bolder, with the green tea doing more to widen the flavours, while still being easy and satisfying to drink.
Finish – It’s no surprise that both these teas leave a remarkably strong jasmine note in the finish, with a sweet flavour that really lingers. It adds to their calming, refreshing qualities and it’s how we can tell that they’ve been scented with authentic jasmine blossom.
Feeling – Jasmine Silver Needle has more of a mellow feeling to it. With its delicate, syrupy texture from the white tea and emphasis on pure, jasmine fragrance it leaves you feeling totally calm and relaxed. While Jasmine Pearls has the same comforting aroma, the green tea makes this infusion much bolder for more of an enlivening sensation.
So, if you want a lighter, purer expression of jasmine, I’d recommend the Jasmine Silver Needle – you’ll get unadulterated sweetness and intense florality. Go for the Pearls if you want a slightly more vegetal, green kick with satisfying thickness but still enough jasmine to give you the floral sweetness.
A note on the scenting:
Unfortunately, many of the jasmine teas you’ll find in the UK are low quality or inauthentic, using concentrated oils or sprayed scents on poor quality tea. If made in this way, typically the oil/scent separates from the infusion when water is added and you’re left with an oily, astringent taste in the mouth. However, the two teas we’re looking at in this piece use the traditional craft and real jasmine blossom to impart the genuine floral scent into the tea.
Jasmine is an exceptionally fragrant flower blossom that is native to China, with a season beginning around mid-May and lasting until October. During this time, the teas are carefully transported to Guangxi province; a region famed for its epic landscapes, iconic karst mountains and being the heart of jasmine production in China where the tea scenting takes place.
To begin the scenting process, pickers will have selected only the best jasmine flower buds, checking the size and ripeness with the same care that goes into picking the highest quality teas. Each batch of tea will be spread out into a single layer on bamboo mats, then the freshly picked jasmine buds will be carefully mixed in, ensuring that both the tea and jasmine are not damaged in any way. The piles are left overnight, during which the jasmine buds will blossom into flowers and impart their authentic scent into the tea. For the highest quality jasmine teas, this needs to happen for a minimum of four to five nights, with a fresh batch of jasmine blossom applied by hand each morning.