If you're looking for a way to take your teatime experience to some next-level cinematic trippiness (we suggest Pink Floyd's "Animals" as the soundtrack, or if you're more dramatic, perhaps Dvorák), the world of blossoming teas may be just what you're looking for to spice things up in the tearoom.
These performative little explosions are not, as you may first think, herbal infusions. Rather, they're compacted, tea-wrapped flowers, a blossom bundle hand-sewn shut within leaves of actual tea—typically white, green or oolong. Inside the tea you'll find one of several flowers like jasmine (which you're likely already familiar with from other tea blends), chrysanthemum, osmanthus, lily, marigold, peony, amaranth, or hibiscus. (Though the flowers contained within may or may not be aromatic or impart much flavor, they may nonetheless be selected, or scented, to complement the teas that surround them.)
By and large, blossoming teas are a visual experience; manufacture of the picturesque packages cannot be relied upon for the transparency of knowing precisely which tea (or sometimes, even which flower!) has been selected or why. The somewhat anonymous teas utilized in blossoming tea may logically be expected to be somewhat lower quality, weaker strength (you'll be infusing it for a long time while you watch the pretty flower) or contain the odd defect. But at around $2 a blossom, you're neither likely to wish nor afford to drink a blossoming tea with much regularity, so there's nothing to lose in sitting back to at least enjoy the show. (This said, there are some distributors of blossoming teas that put great effort into their "art teas", from fairytale names all the way through to health benefits.)
The blossoms themselves are typically produced by encircling long, dried tea leaves around the flower using hand-stitching of cotton, silk, etc., and are delivered to the drinker as a compacted ball; some have suggested this makes blossoming tea perfect for travel! The practice's history is in high debate, credit given to Chinese tea artisans either in the Ming Dynasty... or the 1980s. Whether it's a modern invention or one with ancient roots, it's worth getting hold of a blossom or two to watch the little wet firecrackers do their thing at least once.
How to Brew
Though you can easily brew blossoming teas in a variety of pots (or your mug), a clear glass pot such as those specifically designed for blossoming teas will give you the best show. They can be had rather cheaply (about $15), and don't require complex filtration since much of the tea stays at least somewhat together after expansion.
Temperature and Time
Since blossoming teas are made from different teas, you'll want to check each package specifically for some guidelines. But loosely, you can expect to brew at temperatures around 170-180F°, for about 2-3 minutes.
Your tea should begin to float to the top of the teapot within the first minute, and achieve full unfurling within three minutes, at which point you'll have gone from a tiny green ball to what looks like a full-on tea terrarium.
Reinfusion, up to two or three times, is possible with most blossoming teas... though obviously the money shot takes place the first time around.
From tea to tea, flower to flower, blossoming teas will vary within a spectrum meant to be light and delicate. You may find a green-tea blossom is earthier or nuttier, while the white-tea-enrobed blossoms we tried leaned towards honey and honeysuckle, with unmistakably jasmine overtones.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is bad at keeping up her coffee-world blog at twitchy.org.