Are floral infusions your cup of tea?
Keeping cool in summer is a full-time job — and there’s no better way to beat the heat than with a jug of iced tea, full of tinkling ice cubes. Only in China, that dewy glass of cool brew may be made with a vast variety of flowers and leaves.
The easiest drinks are made from jasmineinfused wulong tea leaves, or longjing tea, harvested in early spring before Qingming, Tomb Sweeping Day. These are instant coolers, whether drunk hot or cold. Green or semi-fermented teas are the best thirst-quenchers, and the stronger flavors of aged, fermented teas such as pu’er are best reserved for cooler weather in autumn and winter. Besides the Beijing favorite, huacha or jasmine tea, there is also a selection of fruit- and flower-infused teas to choose from. A summer favorite is the beautifully elegant guihua wulong, scented with dried osmanthus flowers.
There is also tea that is brewed with pieces of dried peach, or roselle, the hibiscus fruit. These tangy teas are refreshing and flavorful and often drunk sweetened with honey.
But the stars of these summer drinks have to be the flower infusions, and the best comes from Yunnan province, the garden of China.
Honeysuckle, marigold, globe amaranth, chrysanthemums, jasmine, roses, magnolia, lilies, narcissus, lotus buds, lavender, osmanthus are all part of the great bouquet of flavors.
Flower infusions have many medical benefits and this is where the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine can be tapped. Individual flowers have different healing properties, and by combining several, your long cool drink can be tailored to your health needs.
For example, honeysuckle and chrysanthemum are antiseptic and antibacterial, so they are good for those susceptible to summer sniffles. The flowers are added to green tea and may be spiced up with a stick of cinnamon. The overly “cool” property of the raw tea is neutralized by the warmth of the spice and TCM also recommends raw sugars like cane sugar or rock sugar, or honey.
Some floral teas have pimple-clearing properties.
Roses, globe amaranth, narcissus and jasmine are all reputedly used in detox concoctions and great for those who care about skin health.
Wulong tea leaves form a better base for these flowers as the semi-fermented tea has its own fragrance to add to the floral scents. It is also more suitable for ladies with weaker constitutions.
For those already suffering from an outbreak of acne, lotus seed shoots added to chrysanthemum tea is a useful cleansing combination. The intensely bitter brew is a traditional cure for pimples, and if the tea doesn’t cure you, the bitterness will at least induce a good sweat.
Summer ulcers in the mouth often plague the hot-blooded, and a cooling infusion of mint leaves, green tea and honeysuckle is recommended.
The combinations are endless once you master the basic principles.
There are many ready-packed flower teas on the market, but you shouldn’t buy more than you can drink. Flower teas tend to lose their scent over time, since most are organically dried and have no preservatives.
It is better to buy small quantities and make up your own, mixing and matching tea and flowers.
There are beautiful glass tea sets especially made for flower teas. Often, they may also come with a little spirit burner.
The little glass teacups are insulated with a double layer so you can drink your teas piping hot and admire the ingredients at the same time. The little ritual involves adding the flowers, herbs and tea leaves to the boiling water and allowing it to simmer. Then the tea is poured into a “fragrance cup”, a little glass jug that comes with the set.
The finished brew is then served in little glass bowls. This process allows the tea to be enjoyed without the stray petals and leaves getting in the way.
Of course, you need to have either green or
tea at hand. These tea leaves can be kept in tightly lidded containers and used when necessary. Just remember that these are more perishable than the fermented teas and will lose their fragrance over time.
Organic dried flowers for the floral teas are available online, and there is a great variety to choose from. Herbs such as mint, rosemary, thyme and dried fruits such as wolfberries, jujubes and dried hawthorn are very flavorful.
The process of brewing a pot of flower tea can be very relaxing, especially on a leisurely summer weekend. You may have a stash of ice available to make a long cool drink, but sipping a hot scented cup slowly also has its pleasures.
A cup of pretty floral tea with jasmine and roselle blooming.