I got the idea for this experiment when reading my recently purchased book “Pu-erh Tea”, by Wang Jidong.
The author states that Pu-erh flavoured with chrysanthemum is very popular in both Guangdong and Guangxi, noting that it is held in such regard that some restaurants only serve it so special customers.
As much as I like loose leaf shou Pu-erh, it can get a bit samey, so a method that could potentially bring something new to the mix was too good a chance to miss.
The base for this first batch was some tea I just happened to have in, the origins of which have been forgotten, more likely than not it’s the remains of a packet of common or garden loose leaf shou that was purchased at one of our local Chinese supermarkets.
The same Chinese shops in town were to be my first ports of call when attempting to find dried chrysanthemum flowers.
I drew a blank in the first, but the second shop I visited came up with the goods – a large packet for 15 Swedish Crowns.
I have a small-ish (600ml) glazed tea pot that I normally use for loose leaf shou, and for the sake of comparison decided to use that, the logic being I’m very familiar with the taste of the tea normally brewed in that pot, and so any changes to the taste that the chrysanthemum flowers would bring, favourable or otherwise, would be more noticeable.
Working to that logic, I measured out the familiar 3 teaspoons of tea, and dropped it in a large paper tea filter bag, ready for the pot.
In the book, no actual measurements were given for the amount of chrysanthemum flowers you should use, only the vague guideline “as required“.
Using the photos in the book as a yardstick, I eyeballed what seemed to be about the right amount, scaled up from the gaiwan they steeped in to the teapot I was using. This, when weighed on my trusty kitchen scales, turned out to be 7g of chrysanthemum flowers.
The actual brewing method was fairly routine – water up to 100°C, warm the pot and other teaware, drop in the tea filter bag plus the chrysanthemum flowers, add the water, and then steep for 2 minutes. After the tea had steeped for the required amount of time, I removed the filter bag from the pot as per usual, leaving the chrysanthemum flowers loose in the pot.
This turned out to be an error. The first cup from the pot was delicious, but the tea got increasingly bitter with each refill of my cup.
I put this down to the fact that the chrysanthemum flowers were left in the pot too long, and had oversteeped, something I hadn’t taken into account.
On the second test brewing, I got around this problem by simply putting the chrysanthemum flowers in a paper tea filter bag of their own. After the tea had steeped, I was then able to pull them out along with the tea leaf, leaving just the flavoured tea in the pot.
As I said above, the resulting tea is delicious!
The chrysanthemum flowers somehow both tone down but also accentuate the earthy tones of the shou Pu-erh, adding something of their own on top.
There is a floral sweetness there, true, but it’s not in-your-face like say rose or jasmine can be.
That sweetness also has a kind of savoury, peppery element to it, too. If you’ve done a fair bit of Chinese cookery then you might be familiar with the aroma of Sichuan pepper – the chrysanthemum flowers give the tea something very similar, but without the heat and mouth-numbing effects.
It’s Pu-erh, Jim, but not as we know it.
Definitely a success. A true keeper.