Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tea and Orchids

This post was inspired by a post by Verna L. Hamilton, Worth the Wait - Tea and Orchids.

I find the pairing between tea and orchids to be rather interesting and rich, with more connections than I initially realized. Something about the orchid aroma is particularly evocative. The scent of orchids is light and delicate, but at the same time it somehow grabs the attention. It can even at times be intoxicating.

I have a long familiarity with the fragrance of orchids. My first memory of them is the orchid room at Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden in Kennett Square, PA. Now, I often work from my laptop in Saxby's coffee shop in Newark, Delaware. The owner's wife is an orchid enthusiast and the shop is filled with a diversity of beautiful orchids, such as those pictured here:

The orchids in the above photograph are not particularly fragrant. Many have no detectable scent. However, one orchid in the shop is so strongly aromatic that I often notice it when I'm sitting quite far from it:

Flowers like the one pictured above are the source of the familiar "orchid" fragrance, which closely relates to the aroma of many types of tea.

Distinct "Orchid" Fragrances in Tea:

Many cultivars of tea plant and styles of tea, such as qi lan, have been developed over years to imitate the fragrance of orchids. I must say, some of them are quite convincing, and the ones that do not resemble actual orchids are often still often very pleasing.

There are a number of distinct "orchid aromas" associated with various teas. Gingko Seto of Life in Teacup has a fascinating blog post, meng ding snow orchid, in which she explains about the orchid aroma associated with certain green teas.

I find many of the greener oolongs, including some Tie Guan Yin and some Taiwanese oolongs such as Dong Ding, often resemble orchids to some degree in their aroma. It was so pronounced that once at a dance, I danced with someone wearing orchid perfume and the first thought that popped into my head was...this person smells like that tea I drank earlier today, could she possibly be wearing tea-scented perfume? But I realized in a second that this was probably not the case: more likely it was an orchid fragrance, and the tea had been imitating the orchid, not the other way around.

The orchid aroma associated with orchid-like greener oolongs is certainly very different from the orchid aroma of the "orchid" green teas. Yet another tea with a different sort of orchid aroma was the Mt. Wu Dong Honey Orchid Dancong Oolong I recently tried, courtesy of Life in Teacup. This tea was orchid-like, but was a much darker oolong, distinct from both the greener oolongs and green teas.

I personally find the green oolongs to resemble actual orchids much more closely than green teas or dark oolongs like dancong or a dark qi lan. However, I find all of these types of "orchid tea" to be quite delightful.

How do you perceive the fragrance of orchids, and what has been your experience with "orchid" teas?

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