Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Jasmine Flower Tea Balls

Jasmine tea balls are a kind of beautiful novelty tea that my wife and I usually enjoy in the morning with breakfast or when guests are over at our place. When I say "beautiful", I refer more to the way it looks than to the way it tastes. Don't get me wrong, the aroma and taste are just fine, but I would never expect it to be as fragrant and tasteful as a high quality jasmine "dragon pearls" brewed properly in a gaiwan could provide.

So if these jasmine balls cannot be expected to be as good as the jasmine pearls, then why do I like it? Well, first, I like it because it is still, in my opinion, tastes better than any regular jasmine teabags. Second, to steep it is as easy as steeping a jasmine teabag. And third, it's pretty! What I do is boil some water in the kettle, and in a separate transparent glass jug (to enhance the visual effect) add the boiled water with some cool water to come up with a hot mix of about 75-80 degree Celsius (approx. 165-175' F). The next step is the most complicated one: *PLOP* one ball into the jug and enjoy seeing it bloom into a beautiful flowery presentation. If I were not so much in a hurry to beat the traffic, I would add an extra step: right before plopping the ball into the glass jug, I soak the jasmine ball with hot water in a cup for about 30-40 seconds before picking it up and plopping it into the glass jug. This extra step "rinses" away any unwanted (but not harmful) dust and particles, and it also helps to bloom the ball faster in the glass jug.

For the guests, an offering of this tea will almost always invite some oohs and aahs from watching the flowers bloom. Plus, it's hassle free. I don't need to whip out my tea set and brew the best possible tea liquor in the most complicated way, which would distract the ongoing meal or conversation too much. With the jasmine ball doing its quiet magic, our guests and us can continue to eat and keep the conversation flowing as freely as the tea itself can.

My observation is that most tea stores in the US (online or not) tend to apply insane mark ups onto jasmine balls, thanks to the aura of gourmet elegance it lends unto itself. In my opinion and experience, a decent price for a pound of mid-sized jasmine balls (more or less the size of a US 25 cents coin) with 2 or 3 types of pretty flowers in the middle should cost around $25-35/lb. I expect a much better bargain of about 1/3 or half of most US prices if I buy this tea in or from China. In my opinion, anything over $40/lb for this kind of tea is daylight robbery. Also, I would only get them from tea shops that allow their customers to decide how much tea we'd like to get, instead of from shops that force customers to buy prepackaged things at fixed prices. Besides, when it comes to buying loose leaf teas, one should never -- or rarely -- be placed in a position of buying more than one needs or wants, ounce by ounce.

All in all, I think jasmine balls are an indispensable type of tea to have in my tea cabinet.

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