The globally renowned Chinese folk song “Jasmine Flower” praises the beauty of jasmine with its captivating melody and lyrics that describe the sweet scent covering the budding twigs, its fragrant and white flowers admired by all lips. Jasmine’s popularity extends to its traditional tea, with countless tea drinkers fascinated by its elegant fragrance and mellow taste.
Chen Chengzhong, a practitioner of Fuzhou Jasmine tea scenting techniques, holds significant expertise in the production of Jasmine tea. These techniques are a state-level intangible cultural heritage in China. At 72 years old, Chen has dedicated his life to tea-making since his teenage years when he started as an apprentice in a state-owned tea factory in Fuzhou City, located in East China’s Fujian province.
Jasmine tea usually has green tea as its base and is scented with the aroma of jasmine blossoms. Chen passionately describes the natural scenting process that utilizes fresh jasmine blossoms plucked during the daytime when the buds are closed. The most fragrant jasmine blossoms are saved until late summer to be combined with green tea leaves harvested from the spring, resulting in the perfect blend of flavor and fragrance.
The hot and humid climate combined with the red soil of Fujian province in East China creates optimal conditions for both jasmine and tea plants to thrive, yielding high-quality ingredients for jasmine tea. Chen Chengzhong explains that despite the higher cost of sourcing from Fujian, his team only uses these authentic ingredients to make Fuzhou jasmine tea.
The summer nights are a reminder of the hard work that goes into the tea-making process. Jasmine flowers bloom at night, and workers harvest them fresh to be blended with tea leaves. The tea leaves and flowers are stirred overnight, allowing the leaves to absorb the aromatic scent of the jasmine blossoms.
In the morning, the flowers are sorted, and the leaves are dried before repeating the process. The number of repetitions directly correlates with the robustness of the jasmine flavor, and at least nine scenting processes are necessary to produce superior grade jasmine tea.
Chen emphasizes that sophisticated scenting techniques are crucial in achieving an extraordinary fragrance and smooth taste, the essential criteria for evaluating top-notch jasmine tea. Every step of the process requires skill, patience, and attention to detail to produce the perfect blend of flavors and aromas.
Chen’s Fuzhou jasmine tea-making process is an art form that has been passed down through generations and recognized as a state-level intangible cultural heritage in China. As a practitioner of these techniques, Chen strives to preserve the cultural heritage of Fuzhou Jasmine tea, a tradition that dates back to the Ming Dynasty. The high-quality ingredients and intricate process of making Fuzhou jasmine tea result in a unique flavor and aroma that cannot be found elsewhere.
As the representative practitioner of Fuzhou Jasmine tea scenting techniques, Chen Chengzhong now prioritizes passing on his knowledge to students and apprentices. He regularly gives lectures to share his expertise and ensure the continuation of this traditional skill with profound cultural significance.
Chen’s son, Chen Zheng, is inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and carry on the scenting techniques. He hopes to practice this traditional skill, which has been passed down through generations and has a deep cultural significance, and pass it on to future generations.
The efforts of tea makers like Chen Chengzhong have contributed to the preservation and recognition of China’s traditional tea-making methods. In 2021, these methods were added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list, highlighting their importance and value to the world.
The recognition from UNESCO is an honor and a reminder of the significance of these traditional techniques. It also serves as a call to action for tea makers and enthusiasts alike to continue practicing and preserving these techniques for future generations.
Chen Chengzhong’s passion for tea-making and dedication to passing on his knowledge ensures that Fuzhou Jasmine tea scenting techniques will continue to thrive and be valued for their cultural significance. His son’s interest in following in his footsteps further reinforces the importance of this traditional skill and its continued preservation.