Jasmine tea has withstood the test of time to become one of the most beloved and ubiquitous beverages in history. Transportive, tropical, and distinct, this well-loved tea has been a cornerstone of China’s teamaking legacy for almost a thousand years, first appearing on the scene during the Song Dynasty (960-1127 CE), an era of tremendous tea innovation (not unlike today). Yet, despite its global popularity, jasmine tea is often misunderstood. The process required to make this tea is not often observed, but during a three-week visit to China in July 2023, two of Smith’s top teamakers had the chance to witness the surprising creation of this subtle tea firsthand.
The story begins in Jinhua, deep in the heart of Zhejiang province. Here, tea leaves that will eventually become the delicious Jasmine Silver Tip are picked, processed and packed for a long road trip. The tea needs to be scented with fresh jasmine, which is grown over a thousand kilometers away in Guangxi. Our teamakers, including Donovan Eilert, Smith’s Head of Education, followed the same route, traveling an entire day by car and plane to reach the lush humid city of Hangzhou, known as “Jasmine Flower City.”
Donovan described nearing the jasmine factories as entering a breathtaking scene: an ocean of deep green jasmine shrubs, trimmed to waist height for easy picking and percolating with white jasmine flowers. At the edges of the field sprawl
old-growth eucalyptus groves and countless fruit trees, including mangoes, red dragon fruit, lychee and apple-banana trees, each adding their own rich fragrance to the menagerie of sights and smells.
The fields are tended by families, each assigned plots according to family size. Every day, from April to September, they pick unopened jasmine buds and haul them to the jasmine market. There the air fills with chatter as growers barter with buyers, swapping bundles of blossoms for cash. Magnolia flowers are also sold here; their dense, fruity buds commonly comprise about 1% of jasmine blends, their aromas mixing to form a smooth, silky musk.
Once the jasmine flowers change hands, they are transported to a local factory, where six huge mounds of tea, freshly arrived from Zhejiang, are already waiting. The unopened blossoms are poured over the mounds until the heaps are covered - no small task, considering each of the six mounds weighs about 20,000 lbs. The naturally hygroscopic tea leaves soak up any nearby aromas, but to
translate the gentle scent of jasmine into lip-smacking flavor requires more than just casual proximity. Here, at last, our teamakers observed the secret ingredient of jasmine tea - time, attention and a lot of human effort.
Every thirty minutes, from 9:00 PM to 7:00 AM, workers turn the piles with wooden shovels. This laborious churn thoroughly mixes the tea and blossoms, and allows the tender green leaves to soak up the floral scent. Every morning the opened jasmine blossoms are removed and the tea is stored until the next scenting takes place. This process repeats for five nights in all, after which the tea and blossoms are loaded onto a conveyor belt that sifts and separates them. In the end, mountains of spent jasmine remain, their fragrance captured and stored in the tea. The tea is rested and then put through a final drying stage, after which it is ready to meet the world as fully scented jasmine tea.
While we at Smith have always valued jasmine tea for its enchanting palate and beloved history, this hands-on experience was profound. For most of us today, making a cup of tea is as easy as heating a kettle or fetching a sachet from the cupboard. But to make a cup of tea, especially a tea like our beloved Jasmine Silver Tip, requires time, energy and expertise. Donovan described his
time among the jasmine fields as more than simply inspiring. “To see something that I had perceived as essentially effortless was in fact immersed in human touch, and to witness the labor and the churning and the time investment, it made me want everyone to know the true value of jasmine.” And what is the value of jasmine? A national treasure, a drink beloved throughout time, and a labor of love that is not lost on us.