Tea lovers understand that a cup of tea is not just about the tea leaves; it is also about the aroma and flavor. While high-grade pure teas have a range of interesting notes, tea can be scented or flavored as well. Many people use the terms “scented” and “flavored” interchangeably, but they are not the same. So, what is the difference between scented and flavored tea?
Pure tea is unscented and unflavored real tea made from Camellia sinensis tea leaves. White, yellow, green, oolong, black, and dark teas are all real teas. In most tea-producing countries, pure teas are usually enjoyed without any additional scents or flavors. Some loose tea leaves, however, are scented with natural fresh ingredients to achieve a specific flavor without covering the scent and flavor of tea leaves.
Scented tea is tea that is scented with real blossoms or fruits during production. Tea producers blend the tea leaves with fragrant fresh flowers or fruits multiple times until they take over the scent and flavor. Scenting ingredients are then removed, leaving pure, but scented, tea leaves. Jasmine blossoms, lychee, pomelo flower, and lotus flower are some of the most popular ingredients for scenting.
Sometimes, already finished tea leaves are simply scented by blending them with dried flowers, such as roses, osmanthus, or jasmine. Technically, they are not traditionally scented, and this can be done by a tea merchant as well. However, they do not contain additional natural or artificial flavors or any other ingredients except dried flowers/petals and tea leaves. For example, Pu-erh tea is sometimes blended with flowers such as rose or chrysanthemum, but before the leaves are shaped into cakes. On the other hand, oolong tea may be blended with dried osmanthus flowers even after the tea leaves are already finished. High-quality white tea may be scented too, usually with jasmine flowers, to achieve a special light floral note.
Flavored tea, on the other hand, is tea that is flavored with natural or artificial flavors. Natural flavors are derived from fruits, plants, spices, and other natural ingredients. For example, naturally flavored Earl Grey tea is flavored with bergamot essential oil derived from the peel of citrus bergamia. The process of flavoring tea with essential oil is different from traditional scenting. Sometimes, Earl Grey may be flavored with artificial flavor instead. That is why Earl Grey is usually described as flavored, rather than scented.
Flavoring is usually reserved for pure tea leaves, rather than herbal teas. But some tea blends with pure leaf tea, such as masala chai tea, are full of flavor yet contain nothing except pure tea leaves and spices. They are neither scented nor flavored but rather blended or spiced.
The main difference between scented and flavored tea lies in the production process. Scented tea is made by adding and removing natural fresh flowers with tea leaves before they are completely finished, while flavored tea is made by adding natural or artificial flavors to tea leaves. Scented tea is usually more delicate than flavored tea and may contain only pure tea leaves, while flavored tea blends will always contain more than just one ingredient, at least a tea base and a flavoring agent.
Strength and ingredients are also key differences between scented and flavored teas. Scented tea tends to have a more delicate flavor that depends on the skills, technique, and quality of tea leaves used. In contrast, flavored tea can have a stronger, more noticeable taste due to the addition of flavoring agents.
Another distinction between the two types of tea is their ingredients. Scented teas typically contain only pure tea leaves, with leftover petals from the flowers used for scenting occasionally present. Flavored teas, on the other hand, usually contain at least one or two additional ingredients, aside from the tea base and flavoring agent.
In summary, scented and flavored teas both offer unique tastes and aromas. Scented tea is produced by adding and removing natural fresh flowers with tea leaves, resulting in a delicate flavor that relies on the quality of the tea leaves. Flavored tea, meanwhile, is made by adding natural or artificial flavors to tea leaves, resulting in a more noticeable taste. Both types of tea have their own distinct production processes and ingredient profiles. Ultimately, the choice between scented and flavored tea comes down to personal preference and the desired taste experience.