What makes tea beautiful is not only the shape of the leaf, but many exquisite scents and flavors too. Although high grade pure teas may offer a whole range of interesting notes, tea is often scented or flavored as well. Do you know the difference?
What is pure tea?
Pure tea is an unscented and unflavored real tea made from Camellia sinensis tea leaves. All white, yellow, green, oolong, black and dark teas are real teas. Traditionally, in the most tea producing countries real teas are usually, but not always, enjoyed pure. Some loose leas are scented with natural fresh ingredients to achieve a specific flavor without covering the scent and flavor of tea leaves.
What is scented tea?
Scented tea is tea scented with real blossoms or fruits. Scenting is done by a tea producer, before tea leaves are fully finished. They are blended with fragrant fresh flowers or even fruits, usually multiple times, until they take over scent and flavor. Scenting ingredients are then removed, and only pure, but scented, tea leaves are left. You can usually recognize scented tea only by smelling the leaves. Dry leaf will have the same appearance as any other pure tea, but very different scent. The most popular ingredients for scenting are jasmine blossoms, lychee, pomelo flower and lotus flower.
Sometime,s already finished tea leaves are simply scented by blending them with dried flowers, such as roses, osmanthus or jasmine. Technically, they are not traditionally scented and this can be done by a tea merchant as well. However, they don’t contain additional natural or artificial flavors or any other ingredients except dried flowers/petals and tea leaves. For example, Pu erh tea is sometimes blended with flowers such as rose or chrysanthemum, but before the leaves are shaped in cakes. On the other hand, oolong tea may be blended with dried osmanthus flowers, even after the tealeaves are already finished. High quality white tea may be scented too, usually with jasmine flowers, to achieve a special light floral note.
Smoking, roasting and aging
Smoking, roasting or aging tea leaves will impact the flavor as well. A very popular tea, smoked Lapsang Souchong was traditionally smoked over pine wood. Today, some types are flavored, rather than smoked. Roasting is a process very popular with oolong teas and Japanese green teas. Some teas are aged in controlled environments to achieve a mellow and often very interesting flavor. These processes are not described as scenting or flavoring, but they all have a very big impact on the final flavor.
What is flavored tea?
Flavored tea is tea flavored with natural or artificial flavors. Natural flavors are derived from fruits, plant, spices and other natural ingredients. For example, naturally flavored Earl Grey tea is flavored with bergamot essential oil derived from the peel of citrus bergamia. The process of flavoring tea with essential oil is different from traditional scenting. Sometimes, Earl Grey may be flavored with artificial flavor instead. That’s why Earl Grey will usually be described as flavored, rather than scented.
Another interesting example is Milky Oolong. Original Milky Oolong or Jin Xuan comes from Taiwan and doesn’t contain any natural or artificial flavors. It may have a light milky note, but that’s not always the case. However, many Milky Oolongs today are flavored with milk flavorings to offer a very strong milky flavor.
Flavoring is usually reserved for pure tea leaves, rather than herbal teas. But some tea blends with pure leaf tea, such as masala chai tea, are full of flavor yet contain nothing except pure tea leaves and spices. They are neither scented nor flavored, but rather blended or – spiced.
What’s the difference between scented tea and flavored tea?
There are a few differences between flavored and scented tea.
Scented tea is made by adding and removing natural fresh flowers with tea leaves before they are completely finished. It doesn’t include any type of natural or artificial scents or flavors. If tea leaves are scented with anything except fresh ingredients and during the production phase, those teas are by definition flavored.
Scented tea will often be more delicate than flavored tea. The flavor of scented tea will depend on the skills, technique and the quality of tea leaves. For high quality teas, fresh flowers will be added and removed several times until the perfect flavor is achieved.
Scented tea will usually contain only pure tea leaves. Sometimes, it’s possible to find leftover petals of flowers used for scenting. Flavored teas will usually contain at least one or two more ingredients, rarely only pure tea leaves. Scented teas may be made with single origin loose tea, while flavored tea blends will always contain more than just one ingredient – at least a tea base and a flavoring agent.
Best teas to try
Best scented teas
Being the most classic scented tea in the world, Jasmine tea is a must try if you want to understand the difference between scented and flavored teas. This Chinese tea is light but aromatic. Bold but smooth green tea leaves are only gently scented with jasmine.
2. Lychee Green
Another classic example of scented tea, this time with lychee. Traditionally, lychee is used for scenting mostly black tea, but this tropical fruit gives an amazing light and fruity note to fresher green tea as well. A bit of smokiness, a bit of tanginess, a bit of astringency and a lot of sweetness. If you love strong and bold green teas with only a touch of flavor, Lychee Green is a tea for you.
Although technically not scented, but rather blended, this tea is so unique it deserved a place on a must-try list. Osmanthus blossoms are tiny little yellow flowers from an osmanthus tree. They are highly aromatic with scent and flavor resembling peach. But what makes it even more special are the tea leaves too. Instead of being blended with Chinese black tea, this tea is made with bolder, but light Indian black tea with beautiful long unbroken leaves. Brew into a delicious, rich and strong cup of tea with hints of peach flavor.
Best flavored teas
1. Blood Orange
When flavoring is done with lots of passion and skills, the result can be nothing less than mesmerizing. In fact, no tea has ever been so serious to take over your heart as Blood Orange. Citrusy flavor, earthy but light red rooibos, slightly sour and zesty hibiscus, orange and rosehips and sweet apple and rose petals with a hint of vanilla and lemon flavor – Blood Orange is a true flavor explosion that is impossible to describe. It’s blended and flavored with natural ingredients.
Blue Lady Grey, a sophisticated version of a true classic among black teas, is traditionally flavored with real bergamot essential oil. This blend has gentle notes of bergamot, lavender and blue mallow blossoms and a full-bodied and smooth black tea as a base.
3. Irish Cream
Inspiration for this caffeine free tea comes from an Irish cream liquor. Deep earthy black tea with rich cocoa tastes just so much better with a hint of vanilla cream notes. A perfect tea to enjoy with milk, any time of the day or night.