When thinking about adding flowers to teas made of Camellia sinensis leaves and herbal teas, several things come to mind. The aroma of a nice tea is pretty subtle, which is why some people like to flavor teas. Flowers as a group tend to communicate aroma and taste, but rarely in equal measure. Consider the rose, which contributes about 90% aroma and 10% taste. If you’re thinking of adding rose to a green tea, brew the green tea leaves and smell rose petals in your hand for a preview of what that blend will taste like. People don’t really like to drink just rose petals steeped—it tastes like rosewater and your palate wants more because there’s nothing to back up the aroma. Mandarin Rose brings together black tea with rose for a tea that has a bit of a feminine edge. It would make a wonderful afternoon tea party tea or as an iced tea for enjoying outdoors on a warm day.
Rose and jasmine are very flowery in the aroma department. Jasmine-scented green tea is normally given as a gift in parts of China around Chinese New Year in February. It’s really cold there and the idea behind this particular gift is that the scent of the tea captures the summer from the previous year and is a reminder of the coming spring when enjoyed during winter. In my mind, Organic Spring Jasmine is a tea I associate with drinking during the afternoon or with Chinese cuisine.
Hibiscus is on the opposite part of the spectrum than rose since it’s 10% aroma and 90% taste. You can a smell a cup of hibiscus and it’s subtle until you get it on the palate—it’s thick, dark, sour, and bittersweet. Hibiscus will radically change the taste, color, sweet-sour-bitter balance of a tea. Since rose and hibiscus are at opposite in aroma and taste, they could play well together. Hibiscus-based herbal teas are wonderful—I like the sourness, the red wine aspect of hibiscus. Wild Berry Hibiscus is the blend of ours with the most prominent hibiscus flavor. It’s great sweetened and drunk during winter. It makes a really good iced tea in the summer too as it turns into a refreshing drink in the way that cranberry juice is refreshing. Hibiscus, as a flavor, rejuvenates the palate and makes you salivate. To describe the taste of hibiscus, it would be in the center of a map of where cranberry juice, red wine, strawberry and cherry flavors intersect. It’s a flower that’s really fruity, and it tends not to play well with others – you wouldn’t want to add milk to a hibiscus tea, and it wouldn’t swap in for a good-with-milk-tea to serve with food, much like it’s rare to see red wine served with scones.
Other flowers like linden flower are sweet and rounded with body, making them interesting additions to tea even though those flowers are not as well known. Chrysanthemum blossoms make for a good anytime herbal tea. I can imagine drinking this infusion in the morning or evening, when it’s cold or hot outside. It’s very sturdy in that way and pairs well with lighter flavors of food or can be served by itself. Within China this herbal tea is very popular; it’s one of the classic herbal teas enjoyed within the country that created tea. You can also spike chrysanthemum with other ingredients, blending in mint, chamomile or if you’re feeling adventurous, another tea bag. Chrysanthemum gets used in blends a lot.
Blending flowers into herbal teas, it’s important to consider they have a different mouth structure—herbs are not astringent and tend to be softer on the palate. A successful herbal tea blend balances aroma and taste. Take pure chamomile. By itself, this flower has a sweet aroma and some body but it doesn’t have much structure on your palate. Just drinking good chamomile will exhibit apple-y, honey sweetness but a limited flavor range. One of our most popular herbal tea blends, Chamomile Citrus brings a complex flavor interest to the cup. It’s a brilliant blend with rosehips, lemon, orange, lemongrass, and a touch of mint to give the chamomile backbone and aromatic dimension. I can’t take any responsibility for this blend as it was a blend created by the founders of Mighty Leaf. Chamomile herbal tea is drunk whenever Peter Rabbit’s mother says you should drink it. Seriously though, with the word chamomile in the name of Chamomile Citrus, it has a soothing taste and effect. The citrus is more tart and I tend to think of this as a blend enjoyed in the afternoon or evening to be served by itself or with food.
A tea flower is another description for a blooming tea. Blooming teas are almost all green teas and resemble balls or cones of tea leaves tied together with a flower inside that blooms when you brew the tea. If you’ve heard them described as flowering teas or tea flowers, they’re actually known in the tea world as blooming teas or display teas. They’re meant to “display” themselves by unfurling from their original shape when placed in hot water. The teas as a group are very difficult to make since they’re totally handmade. They look fantastic. The rare thing is to find good tasting ones. I’ve seen some of these made in China—it takes so long to form them that the green tea leaf often suffers in the process. To make the large balls, they have to dry them so much to dry the center of the leaf. Mighty Leaf only has one blooming tea in our collection, 1000 Days Red Jasmine with a jasmine blossom that unfurls from the center as the tea steeps. We carry this blooming tea because the tea producer is able to manipulate the tea quickly to finish it or skillfully for a good tea. The blooming teas from Fujian and Anhui provinces are the best ones.