For drama, use blooming tea
In 2004, I remember, a tearoom called Infinitea, with close links to Darjeeling, opened in Bengaluru. I knew nothing about tea then and was rather happy with the standard milk tea. It was a bit of a revelation (or shock) to encounter tea that came ungarnished and unadorned. I know I tried several teas that day but cannot remember any, save one. It looked like a dried flower that Gaurav Saria, who runs Infinitea, excitedly dropped into the glass pot before pouring hot water over it. It unfurled in the pot, staining the water with the colour of tea. I know that we topped the pot several times with hot water. I had neither the palate nor the awareness to fully appreciate the tea but the little drama was memorable.
This week, I remembered these teas when I discovered a peony rosette from Darjeeling in my collection. It looks like a twiggy flower with long buds handsewn in the middle. One rosette was sufficient for a cup of tea. By itself, it looks unusual but not particularly attractive. In water, though, it just comes to life. It’s a tea that white-tea drinkers will enjoy.
Peony rosette tea falls in the category of blooming teas, with the leaves stitched together to unfurl and bloom in hot water, like a flower. Who created this trend is not known. Some say it was an old Chinese style. But while it’s tempting to attribute its origins to Chinese tea makers, conversations with tea friends there drew a blank. Still, many blooming teas available online seem to originate in China’s Fujian province, which is also famous for its jasmine-scented green tea pearls.
Most blooming teas, also known as flower teas or crafted teas, are made with green tea or a white tea base, probably because these produce a light, clear liquor. Tea buds or leaves are rolled and sewn together with a flower—jasmine, marigolds and lily are popular choices—into various shapes, a rosette or a ball, even a heart shape. As the tea blooms in hot water, it’s quite a visual treat.
For the best experience, a glass teapot is recommended. Check the temperature of the water to make sure the flowers bloom as intended. In flavour, these teas are generally mild but fragrant. If you like floral teas, blooming teas offer a more elevated experience, for they actually look like flowers and create a more memorable visual experience.
I wonder why we haven’t used these teas to create intrigue and drama with tea drinkers because these are all about the visual experience of teatime. They are speciality handmade teas, which means they are made from select leaves or buds, handled with care and made with skill.
Blooming teas have not yet caught on in India. Gopaldhara in Darjeeling makes peony rosettes ( ₹780 for 25g). Floral blooming teas are available with some retailers here. Karma Kettle offers a blooming tea with three flowers—jasmine, chrysanthemum and amaranth ( ₹550 for two bulbs). Sancha tea offers blooming teas with jasmine or osmanthus ( ₹700 for five bulbs).
Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.