This has come up several times recently—what creates the flavor in that raspberry (chocolate…mango…coconut…jasmine) tea I like? Many people love flavored teas, but with more awareness around food additives, they’re curious how the flavors are created.
First I need to differentiate between flavored and scented teas. Flavored teas such as chocolate tea have flavoring that is added to finished tea before it is packaged and sold. A typical application is done by a fine-mist sprayer to evenly apply the flavor (I know this does not sound appealing, but is probably the most effective way of evenly applying it).
A scented tea like Jasmine is created by layering the finished tea with flowers for a week or two weeks (maybe even changing the flowers to infuse more scent during the process). Sometimes tea is purposely scented with smoke—like Lapsang Souchong.
So back to the original question: what is in those flavorings? Most of my wholesalers will have an ingredient list on the packages they sell to me. With a chocolate flavored tea you might see that the ingredients include real chocolate and (most likely) “concentrated natural flavorings” which means they are concentrated in a food lab to make them more potent and heightened. There may be sugar, milk products, or other ingredients in the flavoring (albeit in very tiny amounts). And there are flavorings that are completely created in the food labs through chemical manipulation (food science…think Jelly Bellies).
I don’t judge a person’s decision around flavored or unflavored tea—we are a society that likes strong flavors. Tea is consumed mostly because it brings pleasure to the consumer and if flavoring brings more pleasure to the experience, then so be it.
If knowing your food is important to you—ask the retailer what’s in the tea. He or she may know most ingredients, but tea blenders (who sell to the retailers) have their secrets and will rarely share what goes into “concentrated natural flavoring”. If you can’t find out all the ingredients but still want to drink the tea—go ahead. It’s all choice on your part.