What makes tea so beautiful and diverse is not just the shape of the leaf but the many exquisite scents and flavors. Although high-quality pure teas can have a whole range of interesting notes, tea is often additionally flavored or scented.
Perfume, aroma, scent … Where exactly is the difference, and what does this have to do with tea?
Before answering this last question, it is first important to distinguish the terms fragrance, aroma and scent. They do not mean the same thing, even though they are often used as synonyms.
Our nose has two different processes for smelling:
The mouth is connected to the nasal cavity, which allows us to “smell” our food when it is in the mouth. It is even an effective method to better perceive odors and accordingly appreciate the subtleties of a good tea.
Ultimately, the sense of smell is the reaction of our brain to a molecule perceived by our olfactory hairs.
Aroma is a similar concept, somewhat adapted to perception.
It is actually limited to the retro-olfactory olfactory perception when tasting tea, coffee or even wine. However, “aroma” is often used to describe the entire taste experience.
A scent is a set of molecules that stimulate our olfactory receptors, that is, an odor emitted by a plant, animal, fungus, or material. Natural scents are often biochemical messages consisting of pheromones.
A perfume can be composed of several fragrances. It is therefore an olfactory composition. The term “odor” refers to anything perceived by the nose – whether pleasant or unpleasant – while a fragrance refers to a pleasant smell.
A perfume can be composed of several scents. It is therefore an olfactory composition. The term “smell” refers to everything that is perceived by the nose, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, while a perfume refers to a pleasant smell.
A fragrance is defined as a combination of organic compounds that produces a distinct smell or odour.
Tea flavoring is also known as natural tea flavor essence and is used to enhance the fragrance and flavor of products containing tea and add a unique touch to your product. Tea flavoring is sometimes referred to as “add-backs”, “FTNF” or “tea enhancers”.
Coming back to our tea, it is important to understand that all good teas have a certain fragrance by nature. This is what makes them so interesting and rich. This “natural” fragrance is made up of natural aromatic substances. Some natural teas have a woody scent, some have a floral scent, some have a fruity scent, and so on.
Tea experts use an aroma wheel to break down the aroma of a natural tea into different elements, classify it, and assess its quality. (See also our article: Tea Tasting Sheet for download).
A “natural” tea is easily scented, as it readily absorbs the odors to which it is exposed. Therefore, we recommend that you always store your teas in an airtight tea caddy.
Teas with floral scents have been made for hundreds of years, mainly in China. In this process, natural tea is mixed with flowers (often jasmine, but also rose, or similar), which gradually release their fragrance.
Jasmine tea is a common example of a scented tea and describes a mixture of green or white tea and jasmine flowers. Its production dates back to the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279); thus, it is an ancient technique.
Pure tea is an unscented and unflavoured real tea made from tea leaves of Camellia sinensis.
All white, green and black varieties as well as oolong tea are considered “real” teas. Traditionally, real teas are drunk neat in most producing countries, although not always.
Some loose teas are perfumed with natural, fresh ingredients to achieve a certain aroma without masking the fragrance and flavour of the tea leaves.
Fragrant or scented tea is tea that has been flavored with real flowers or fruits. Scenting is done by a tea manufacturer before the tea leaves are fully processed. They are mixed with fresh flowers or even fruits, usually several times, until they take on their scent and flavor.
The scented ingredients are then removed, leaving only the pure but now scented tea leaves. Fragrant tea can usually only be identified by the smell of the leaves, as the dry leaf looks just like any other pure tea. Among the most popular ingredients for scenting are jasmine flowers, lychee, pomelo and lotus flowers.
Sometimes already finished tea leaves are simply mixed with dried flowers such as roses, osmanthus or jasmine and scented in this way. In this case, they are technically not traditionally scented, but do not contain any additional aromas or other ingredients except for dried flowers and tea leaves.
Pu erh tea, for example, is sometimes blended with flowers such as roses or chrysanthemums before the leaves are formed into cakes.
Oolong tea, on the other hand, may also be blended with dried osmanthus flowers after the tea leaves are ready. High-quality white tea can also be perfumed, usually with jasmine flowers, for a special, slightly floral note.
Flavoured tea is tea that has been flavoured with natural or artificial flavourings. This process was developed in Europe in the 1960s, but is actually older. Natural flavourings are obtained from fruits, plants, spices and other natural ingredients.
A naturally flavoured Earl Grey tea, for example, is flavoured with the essential oil of bergamot from the peel of the citrus fruit Bergamia. Earl Grey tea was invented in England in the 18th century. The process of flavouring tea with essential oil differs from traditional perfuming. Sometimes Earl Grey is flavoured with artificial aromas instead. For this reason, it is usually referred to as flavoured rather than scented.
Another interesting example is Milky Oolong. Original Milky Oolong or Jin Xuan comes from Taiwan and contains no natural or artificial flavours. It can have a slight milky note, but not in every case. However, many Milky Oolongs today are flavoured to produce a very strong milk taste.
Flavouring is usually reserved for pure leaf teas and not herbal teas. However, some tea blends with pure leaf tea, such as masala chai tea, are very aromatic. Nevertheless, they contain nothing but pure tea leaves and spices. They are neither perfumed nor flavoured, but rather blended or spiced.
Natural and/or artificial flavors can be used to produce flavored teas. A natural flavor is a molecule that comes directly from a raw material, while an artificial flavor is synthetically produced. Vanilla, for example, was the first synthetic flavor on the market.
You can flavor tea with real b.w. candied fruit pieces, flowers or petals, chocolate and caramel, spices, essential oils or natural fruit extracts.
As we will see below, some differences exist between flavored and scented tea.
Fragrant tea is made by adding and removing natural, fresh flowers to tea leaves before they are fully processed. It does not contain any natural or artificial fragrances or flavors. If tea leaves are flavored with ingredients other than fresh during the production phase, it is by definition flavored tea.
Fragrant tea is often finer than flavored tea. Its flavor depends on the skill, technique and quality of the tea leaves. In high quality teas, fresh flowers are added and removed several times until the perfect flavor is finally achieved.
Scented tea usually contains only pure tea leaves. Sometimes you can find remnants of petals that have been used for fragrancing. Flavored teas usually contain at least one or two other ingredients, rarely just pure tea leaves. Scented teas can be made with loose tea from a single source, while flavored tea blends always contain more than one ingredient – at least a tea base and a flavoring agent.
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