Background: osmanthus is to Shanghai, where I was born, what lilacs are to Paris (except that it blooms in early autumn). It’s used to flavour a number of traditional regional dishes and desserts. Osmanthus tea isn’t really one of them – it’s not a tea-growing area, although it’s a city of oolong-drinkers by and large – but the scent triggers abject nostalgia. A cup of this to me as madeleines to Proust. Plus it just smells really freaking nice.

Dried osmanthus blossoms (little curled up yellow bits) have less staying power than jasmine. They lose their scent if shelved too long. This makes buying osmanthus tea, which I do whenever possible, a frustrating exercise. Ready blends were hard to find in Shanghai itself the last time I was there in ‘06. Then again, in ’06 it was hard to find osmanthus tea in Canada, and thankfully that’s no longer the case.

This Golden Dragon stuff is the cheapest, most generic option – $5/canister in the South Shore Asian grocery, iirc – and it’s definitely been shelved too long. Did no favours to the green tea itself, either; this ain’t gunpowder, which I’m convinced could actually be entombed for centuries and still taste fine when the archaeologists unearth it (not that this describes one or two pantry experiences I’ve had or anything). A long hard steep and/or multiple applications of hot water unlocks the osmanthus scent, though, and that’s really all I’m looking for. Still, a domain in which you tend to get your money’s worth.

(The classic method of preserving osmanthus isn’t drying at all, but candying in sugar syrup. Why don’t I get a jar of that from Chinatown and dump a teaspoonful in when I brew regular green or oolong? Reasonable question. The cultural injunction against sugaring Chinese teas is too strong, I guess. Ping me on Steepster if you try it.)

Incidentally – and the fact that I’m stretching the defined bounds of the software right now suggests that this is functionality Steepster’s social networking gurus ought to consider, perhaps with a nice Google Map as accompaniment – the best cup of osmanthus tea I’ve found in Montreal to date is the Brûlerie Saint-Denis near Côte-des-Neiges metro station, under the Renaud-Bray, which has a massive selection of loose leafs. I don’t know what company they source from.

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