Flowering teas are also known as "flower teas," "blooming teas," "display teas," "flower craft teas," "hand-sewn teas" or "hand-tied teas" teas.
Flowering teas are noted more for their appearance than their flavor. They are typically made of tea leaves (mostly tea buds) that have been sewn by hand into a shape such as a sphere/globe, peach, oval, disc, rosette, mushroom, cone or heart. The tea leaves are sometimes pressed flat before they are sewn into three-dimensional shapes, and they may have a residual texture/imprint if they were pressed between pieces of cloth or paper.
Many contemporary flowering teas contain a single flower or multiple flowers inside of the bundle of tea leaves. However, not all flowering teas contain actual flowers -- the name "flowering tea" can also refer to the opening of the tea leaves during infusion. Common flowers in flowering teas include carnation, chrysanthemum, globe amaranth, hibiscus, jasmine, marigold, lily, osmanthus, and rose. The flowers used in flowering teas are food-safe / edible flowers.
When flowering teas are infused, they open into a different shape. This may be a larger sphere, the shape of a basket, a garland shape or various other shapes. Although they typically open gradually, some flowering teas feature flowers that have been sewn into a strand or garland that opens quickly, popping out of the tea leaves once the tea leaves have been softened and opened enough by the hot water. These types of flowering teas tend to be showy and dramatic compared to their more traditional counterparts.
The striking appearances of flowering teas have made them a bit of a YouTube phenomenon; a YouTube search will yield quite a few videos showing the blooming processes of different flowering teas.
Most flowering teas have a fairly neutral flavor that can be described as slightly floral or vegetal. This is because the shaping process compromises the flavor of the tea. Some flowering teas are scented with jasmine flowers or otherwise flavored to compensate for the lack of flavor in the tea leaves. Generally speaking, the flowers contained inside most flowering teas do not contribute much to the flavor, although flowers like chrysanthemum, jasmine, and rose can be tasted in some cases.
Simple types of shaped and hand-tied teas have been made in China for hundreds of years. However, the showier styles of flowering teas developed in China during the excess of the 1980s. In recent years, flowering teas have become very popular in the North American and Europe. They are now made in several parts of China (notably Anhui, Fujian, and Yunnan).
How Flowering Teas Are Made
Flowering teas are typically made from the delicate buds of the tea plant. In Fujian in particular, they are often made with white tea varietals, which have long, soft buds.
The leaves are processed into tea (usually green tea, but sometimes white tea or black tea), then moistened and shaped by hand. Using food-safe string, bundles of about 20 leaves are sewn into shape, often around one or more flowers. They may be wrapped in cloth while they dry -- this helps them hold their shape better.
How to Brew Flowering Teas
The whole idea behind flowering teas is enjoying their appearance, so a glass brewing vessel is the best choice, followed by clear plastic. (Seriously, though -- glass is much better!) If you don't have a clear glass teapot, that's OK. You can also use a large wine glass or a glass pitcher to brew your flowering tea.
Although most green teas and white teas taste best when they are steeped in water that is below boiling, flowering teas have a less pronounced flavor and are perfectly fine when steeped in boiling water. In fact, boiling water (or near-boiling water) can be better for helping flowering teas to "bloom." Similarly, while most green teas are sensitive to over-brewing, many flowering teas can steep for a long time (20 minutes or so) without getting bitter. This simple, flexible preparation makes them a great choice for serving at gatherings.