Flowering teas (or blooming teas) are an exquisite and delightful experience, both in terms of taste and stunning visuals. Formed into a bulb by hand; the crafter begins by selecting the freshest whole green tea leaves and binding them carefully to a beautiful selection of flowers and flower petals, this is then left to dry and set into a delicate bundle.
When steeped, the bundle slowly unfurls in a process resembling a blooming flower to reveal the beautifully laid out tea leaves and the flowers inside which emerge as a stunning centrepiece. The combination of tea leaves and flowers produce a wonderfully scented liquor from pale yellow to golden in colour and often a light flavour with sweet undertones.
Flowering teas are typically sourced from the Yunnan province in China and the flowers most commonly used are globe amaranth, chrysanthemum, jasmine, lily, hibiscus and osmanthus. It is unclear whether flowering tea is a modern creation or an older invention from China; but we do know that it has become hugely popular since its introduction to the West in the latter half of the 20th century.
Flowering tea is best served in a glass teapot or mug in order to fully enjoy the performance of the opening blossom.
Flowering teas are almost exclusively sourced from the Yunnan province in China. This landlocked, South-Western province of China is notable for it's diverse landscape, from the top of the snow-capped mountains to the deepest gorge.
The age of flowering teas is generally unknown, but there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it may have been used as early as the 10th Century in China. Although this may have only been for display and not to drink.
We do know that flowering teas have been increasingly used in tea for consumption for around two centuries now; with huge interest in the West really developing in the late 20th century.
Now flowering teas are relatively well known and highly sought after. And although demand may have increased substantially, most true flowering teas still come from Yunnan and are crafted by hand.
The tea leaves used in flowering teas are most often green teas (although white teas to sometimes occur), and so the harvesting and cultivation methods are the same as with green teas. You can read more about this here. Teas for use in flowering teas are usually harvested from the "needle" leaf type cultivars as these can be most reliably tied into a flowering tea bulb
The fresh tea leaves are then hand sewn into a "flower", and other, true fresh flowers are also sewn into the bulb. These are most often globe amaranth, chrysanthemum, jasmine, lily, hibiscus and osmanthus. The finished flower creation is then wrapped (usually in cotton) and then heat applied to "fix" the tea and stop oxidisation. This is what gives flowering teas their recognisable green tea flavour.
After the initial heat is applied, flavours such as jasmine may be added in order to further enhance the flavour and then the bulb is re-fired to fix both shape and flavour.
Flowering teas are widely celebrated for their stunning visuals, making the perfect display piece on any table
The number of blossoms and the variety of colours and shapes that can be created is completely at the will of the craftsmen and because the bulbs are formed by hand, each bulb is unique, even where the same blossoms are used. This gives rise to a dizzying range of possibilities
Usually, the green tea flower will form the base, or bottom "flower" and provides the majority of the flavour of the brewed tea. This will then be further enhanced by at least one fresh flower type sewn into the green tea "flower".
As other teas are added, shapes are formed in order to increase the beauty of the brewed tea. This is very commonly an elegant column of flowers with a vibrantly coloured flower on the very tip, but can also be two or more columns, and even graceful arches.
Flowering teas are very often flavoured, usually with jasmine. This gives flowering teas a decadent bouquet and complex flavour ensuring that these teas are much more than just showpieces.
At Tea Palace, we spend a lot of time sampling different flowering teas to ensure that we source only the most stunning and flavourful flowering teas. The selection process for choosing flowering teas usually involves an evaluation of three elements: flavour, flowers and beauty and crafting quality.
Flavour can often be the most complicated element to judge, and this is because unlike other green teas where the leaves are removed after steeping, flowering teas are mostly left in the teapot for display. As over-brewing often significantly affects the flavour of the infusion over time, it is important to select varieties that retain a pleasant flavour over extended steeping periods.
Flowers and beauty is easily the most exciting part of testing flowering teas. As we see many varieties as the blossom unfurls we are often on tenterhooks as to the resulting display. We select for exquisite colours and stunning shapes that are sure to be a talking point at the table.
Finally, we look at the quality of craftsmanship; do the blossoms unfurl completely, are all of the internal flowers bright, beautiful and well selected? Is the whole flower tied securely in order to ensure it retains it's shape no matter how long it is on the table?