Unflavored tea is completely enjoyable and flavorful as a self-drinker or with the addition of your favorite sweetener or a splash of juice. Have you ever wondered how some teas arrive in your cup with the same exact tea leaves but really different flavors? Tea can take on a flavor from a flavoring or a scent to produce a different flavor profile.
Flavored teas like Berry, Peach, or Earl Grey are some of the most popular teas consumed in the United States. Earl Grey's flavor comes from a citrus fruit called bergamot (like an orange). Skill is required to understand how adding flavor will impact the final cup, with much care not to overpower the essence of the tea flavor.
In different parts of the world, flavored teas can be referred to as flavored, scented, or perfumed teas. In the U.S., perfumed teas have a negative connotation, while scented and flavored teas have two different meanings. Confusion arises when we discuss jasmine tea. This is because jasmine can be made both as a scented tea and as a flavored tea. In fact, just about every scented tea has its counterpart in the flavor world.
Try this: Jasmine Organic Green Tea SIP NO. 205 from Tea Sip Jasmine blossoms are plucked and layered amongst this tea during artisanal processing, which naturally scents this beautiful brew. Petals are removed, leaving a rich floral sweetness to this wonderfully balanced green tea.
Scented Teas are teas that naturally absorb the scent (aroma and taste) of another substance without applying a flavoring agent. The tea’s botanical structure makes it hygroscopic, meaning it easily absorbs the moisture and aromas surrounding the tea.
The Chinese are known for their scented teas. Origin authentic teas like Jasmine, Rose, and Lapsang Souchong impart their flavor upon the leaf via the scented method. Though many believe that only low-grade or common teas are used in scenting, many highly prized scented teas are far from being inferior or inexpensive. Scented teas became most popular in Chinese tea culture during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
One of the processes used to scent teas with floral notes is to take the tea from the final firing and pour it onto a bed about 2” inches high then, a layer of freshly plucked flowers is strewn over the tea. This process is repeated several times. The tea and the flowers are left for a period of time, typically overnight, during which time the tea takes on the subtle aroma and flavor of the flower. Many different flowers can be used to scent the tea in this manner, most notably jasmine; however, rose, magnolia, and gardenia are also used. For a stronger aroma and taste, the flowers can be changed several times with newly plucked flowers and/or mixed in with the tea.
Another popular scented tea is Lapsang Souchong, sometimes referred to as smoked tea. This tea is processed around pine or cypress wood fires. The smoke penetrates the tea, imparting the wonderful “campfire” flavor and aroma. Often the tea is hung in baskets in the final stage of drying above these fires where the smoke rises. However, other methods such as withering around these fires have also been used.
Flavored Teas are teas in which a flavoring agent is added to the tea. There are two main types of flavoring available; liquid flavor and dry or encapsulated (controlled release) flavor. Liquid flavoring (including emulsions) is the most common type used to flavor tea. Flavoring types are further broken down into category types:
· “Natural: Defined substance contained by substance appropriate physical, microbiological, or enzymatic processes from a foodstuff or material of vegetable or animal origin as such as after processing by food processes.
· Artificial: Flavoring substance, not yet substance identified in a natural product intended for human consumption, either processed or not.” (1)
· Natural & Artificial: A combination of both natural and artificial components as stated above. Most notably, the carrying agents are artificial (these evaporate during processing), while the main flavor components are natural.
· “Natural Identical: Flavoring substance obtained by synthesis or isolated through chemical processes from a natural aromatic raw material and chemically identical to a substance present in natural products intended for human consumption, either processed or not. (1)" This category of flavoring substance does not exist in the U.S., and products that use this type of flavor (primarily from Europe) must be labeled artificial.
There has been great debate about natural and artificial flavors. Natural and artificial flavors aren’t much different in chemical composition as you might expect. What is different is the source. The distinction is based on how the flavor was made, more than what it actually contains. Natural and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals but were produced through different processes.
For example: When amyl acetate, which provides the dominant note of banana flavor, is distilled from actual bananas with a solvent, it is a natural flavor. However, if it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, the amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way, it smells and tastes like bananas.
For example, An artificial strawberry flavor may contain the same individual substances as a natural one, but the ingredients come from a source other than a strawberry.
The other debate is whether natural flavors are healthier or purer. However, this is not necessarily the case. Benzaldehyde, which provides the flavor of almonds derived from natural sources, such as peach or apricot pits, may contain traces of hydrogen cyanide, a lethal poison.
“The flavor industry initially put great effort into attempting to duplicate nature through the use of synthetic chemicals. Natural flavorings derived only from natural sources had severe limitations, particularly when the flavoring was obtained from fruits, due to low flavor levels, seasonal availability issues, and high material costs. Also, very often, flavorings isolated from nature did not perform well due to undesirable components indigenous to the flavoring.
The composition of artificial flavorings could be precisely controlled, their aromatic profiles and physical form designed to meet specified consumer requirements or manufacturing parameters, and their consistent supply assured at a reasonable cost. Thus, it appeared to the industry that artificial flavorings were the industry's future. This prospect drove the industry to broadly develop synthetic sources of chemicals that were found to define most of today’s foods or food ingredients. (1)"
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1. Gary Reineccious, Flavor Chemistry and Technology (Boca Raton: CRC Press 2006) 203-204