Since the early days of exported teas, fruit flavors imparted by blending or scenting have been a popular way to make low quality tea more palatable. Today, when we think of fruity teas, the flavor that comes to mind is intensely aromatic, often cloying, and framed against a backdrop of astringency and bitterness. Though chunks of dried fruit can give the impression of natural flavor, the taste of the brew disappears quickly, and somehow the aroma doesn’t quite seem to translate on the tongue.
On the other hand, teas that have a naturally fruity flavor profile will rarely smell overwhelming, or have the fragrance of a specific fruit, especially in dry form. Instead, the term “fruity” describes a nuanced aspect of the pure tea flavor. Traditional tea crafting can produce a range of flavors in the fruity flavor spectrum, from the rich sweetness of apricots to the crisp bite of citrus and the juicy texture of mango. Today, we’ll break down a few of the most popular flavor notes used to describe natural fruity nuances, and cover the traditional tea types that typically contain them.
Notes of stone fruit
Stone fruits, or soft, fleshy fruits with a hard pit at the center, include peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries. Though characterized by rich sweetness and a juicy texture, there is a wide variety of flavor that falls under this term. The bright, slightly tart flavor of apricot is commonly found in traditional white teas from Fuding County, Fujian, while some black teas from Taiwan have a more straightforward sweetness, akin to a perfectly ripe peach.
Oolongs from the Phoenix mountains are among the best known for their naturally fruity flavor, developed through generations of selective breeding. Our rarest tea from this region, Song Zhong, is one of our perennial favorites thanks to its delicate and complex flavor profile, led by a dominant hint of peachy sweetness. Lightly oxidized oolongs like Jin Xuan from Taiwan or Monkey Picked Tieguanyin from Anxi County also exhibit more subtle hints of peach, particularly in the aroma of the brewed leaves and the rich texture.
Finally, we find many aged teas develop notes of plum or cherry after long-term, dry storage. Rather than the crisp and juicy flavor of fresh stone fruits, the sweet notes in these teas are more reminiscent of dried fruits, with a deep, rich flavor that lingers on the palate rather than disappearing in the nose. Unfortunately, these dry-aged teas are among the most difficult to find, since excess humidity or repeated roasting will create a more dominant smoky or peat-like flavor.
Notes of citrus
Citrus fruits like lemons, limes, tangerines, and oranges are notable for their tart or sour flavors. Again, the selective breeding in the Phoenix Mountains of Guangdong produces the most recognizable citrus flavors in the tea world, especially in teas like Huang Zhi Xiang, which translates literally as “Orange Blossom Fragrance”. In oolongs like this one, the crisp flavor is underscored by a hint of astringency, which produces the same “puckering” feeling as a sour citrus fruit in the mouth.
But notes of citrus are also found in rare examples of rolled Taiwanese oolongs like Da Yu Lin, which develops a long-lasting finish during slow growth at the highest possible elevations. We find hints of tangerine among the layers of flavor that linger on the palate. Citrus notes can also appear in some black teas like Three Cultivar Red, which uses a mixture of three different tea leaf varieties to create a notably unique black tea. The sharp citrus flavor of this tea is so bold that we often recommend it as a natural alternative to Earl Grey, which is traditionally scented with a rare citrus fruit from Italy called bergamot.
Notes of tropical fruit
Tropical fruit flavors range from the syrupy sweetness of mango to the tart bite of pineapple, and appear most often in Taiwanese oolongs grown at high elevations. Often coupled with floral overtones in these lightly oxidized teas, notes of tropical fruit can be subtle, and require a low temperature brew for maximum impact.
We recommend using water below 190°F to steep until the tightly rolled leaves of our classic Lishan or more unusual Jin Xuan, Winter Sprout are about halfway unfurled. This can take up to a few minutes, but once decanted, either one of these brews will deliver natural sweetness and a rich texture that is often described as creamy, but also reminds our palates of the mouth watering juiciness of ripe mango or dragonfruit.
It may take more effort to recognize the subtle nuances of fruit flavor that appear naturally in tea, but we typically think of these teas like fine wines. Sure, a box of blended red will make a good sangria with the addition of fresh fruits, but the complexity of a good aged Bordeaux would be wasted in such a fruity punch. A nice tea is best appreciated for its own inherent fruity notes, along with all the other layers of flavor that make it great.
What natural fruity nuances do you find in your favorite teas? Let us know in the comments below!
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