The appeal of flavored teas is undeniable. Vendors at all levels of the tea shopping spectrum recognize this, and many specialize in coming up with just the right new combinations of flavors while a number of flavored teas stick around, remain popular, and are even considered classics. Some flavored teas (we’re talking about those teas with other things such as spices and bits of fruit added to them) came about as a matter of necessity and others were purposeful creations, just as it is with some of our favorite food dishes.
One of the earliest flavored (scented) teas is Jasmine. Supposedly, this was a way to have the tea combined with the appeal of the scent of jasmine, which is fairly popular in some cultures. Some teas were flavored to use up old or inferior tea. Genmaicha is one such example where tea merchants mixed toasted rice kernels with their leftover green teas to give them more appeal. Why rice? It was abundant and enjoyed as a staple part of the Japanese diet. In India, spiced teas came about to cover the strong bitter and/or astringent quality of the CTC black teas from Assam (often what was left after the best teas had sold and gone to other markets); spicy foods are common in India anyway, so why not add some to the teas? A natural appeal.
Some flavorings get added to teas because people want to drink tea but at the same time enjoy flavors they have gotten used to. Cinnamon is a big one in the U.S., being used in a wide range of dishes from gingerbread men to soups to meat dishes (very Moroccan). Citrus is another one that has great appeal (and a great peel!), including lemon and orange rind. They add Vitamin C and a flavor that has a citrusy tang. In a country where orange juice is a very popular beverage, it is hardly surprising that teas with citrus added have great appeal. And then there’s mint – both spearmint and peppermint. We’re ga-ga over the stuff. So mint teas and even mint tisanes that use only the mint leaves with no tea in them are widely available. My favorite is the kind with a green tea base.
Some folks might not consider teas like Lapsang Souchong to be a flavored/scented tea, but others do. And it does raise the interesting question of when a tea crosses that line between natural and added flavors/scents, especially since the processing of a tea, such as drying the leaves over wood fires or letting them wither between layers of flower petals, will affect the final flavor and purposely so.
In the end, it doesn’t matter to most people enjoying these teas how they got that way (other than knowing that the ingredients are natural and healthy), so the real bottom line is enjoyment. From the natural flavors of Dancong oolongs elicited from the leaves by the tea master, the flavor complexity of pu-erhs that change as they age, and the blends of teas to achieve the right flavor profile, to the ones with Lychee, mango, peach, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, mint, and other flavorings substances added, there is certainly a tea that is right for every palate, culture, and preference. The appeal seems universal and growing daily. Sounds good!