May/Should one say a blessing of Besamim upon smelling a tea bag

May/Should one say a blessing of Besamim upon smelling a tea bag?[1]

Plain teas [non-herbal; black tea, green tea, etc]:[2] One may not recite a blessing upon smelling generic teas which are manufactured from the Camellia sinensis plant.[3] [These include all the following teas: White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, dark tea, Pu-erh tea, and black tea.] This applies even if one enjoys the smell.[4] Nonetheless, if one enjoys the smell, then he is to avoid smelling it for the sake of benefit, [or smell it only after reciting a blessing on another valid scent].[5]

Scented or flavored teas [herbal and non-herbal]:[6] One may not recite a blessing upon smelling scented or flavored teas, being that the scent is not intrinsic to the leaves but is an additive imparted onto the leaves through different methods used.[7] This applies even if the added flavor and scent derives from natural herbs, and certainly applies if the flavors themselves are adulterated and chemically produced. This applies to both herbal and non-herbal teas.[8] Although a blessing is not recited, nonetheless, initially one is to avoid smelling it for the sake of benefit, [or smell it only after reciting a blessing on another valid scent].[9]

Herbal teas [made from leaves other than Camellia sinensis without flavorings or additives]:[10] Natural unflavored and unscented herbal teas which have an intrinsic good scent are to have a blessing recited over them prior to smelling the leaf. This, however, only applies if the following conditions are fulfilled: 1) The herb is commonly smelled for its good scent also outside of the tea bag.[11] [This would exclude all herbal teas of which their herbs are primarily used for food or tea brewing and are not commonly smelled by people. An example of natural and unscented herbal teas which are smelled outside of their tea use and therefore would deserve a blessing prior to smelling their leaf is: Mint, including peppermint, spear mint, and other mint teas; cinnamon tea.] 2) One picked up the teabag for the purpose of smelling it.[12] [This would exclude one who lifted the tea bag for the sake of making tea, in which case a blessing may not be recited unless he raises it to his nose for the sake of smelling it.[13]]

What blessing is to be recited upon smelling the herbal teas? The blessing that is to be recited upon smelling the above herbal teas depends on the form of growth of the leaf and whether it is defined as the leaf of a grass or the leaf of a tree. If the leaf grows as a grass, or on a soft stalk, then one says the blessing of Borei Isvei Besamim. If it grows on hard stalk, and certainly if grows on tree, its blessing is Atzei Besamim.[14] This applies whether the tea contains whole leaves or ground leaves, as found in a tea bag.[15] [Thus, natural herbal mint tea made of peppermint, or spearmint leaves, is to have the blessing of Isvei Besamim recited.[16]]  Practically, if one does not know how the leaf grows or if its form of growth is Atzei or Isvei, then one is to say the blessing of “Boirei Minei Besamim”.[17]

 

Summary:

One is to avoid smelling tea bags for the sake of their good scent, and is not to say a blessing over them in the event that they are smelled, unless all the following conditions are fulfilled:

1.       The herb/leaf that is in the tea bag contains a natural and intrinsic good scent [as opposed to flavored or scented additives].

2.       The herb/leaf is commonly smelled by people outside of its tea use.

3.       One picked up the teabag for the purpose of smelling it. 

Practically, the above conditions exclude smelling/blessing all plain and flavored teas, and only herbal teas which contain a natural good scent and are commonly smelled outside of their tea use may be smelled and blessed upon when lifting for the purpose of smelling. The blessing of Atzei or Isvbei Besamim is to recited depending on its source. [Thus, natural herbal mint tea made of peppermint, or spearmint leaves, may be smelled, and the blessing of Isvei Besamim is to be recited.] If the source or form of growth is unknown, then the blessing of Borei Minei Besamim is to be recited.

 

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[1] The question of smelling tea bags touches upon many of the laws discussed in the laws of “Smelling spices”. See Seder Birchas Hanehnin chapter 11; Shulchan Aruch Michaber 216; Ketzos Hashulchan 62-63; Piskeiy Teshuvos 216

[2] Background on how plain tea is manufactured: Tea is made through curing leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrub or small tree whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, dark tea (which includes pu-erh tea) and black tea are all harvested from the Camellia sinensis, but are processed differently to attain varying levels of oxidation. Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from Camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves.

[3] The reason: The plant does not usually have a good smell and hence does not deserve a blessing. Furthermore, even if it were to have a good smell, since it is manufactured for eati8ng/brewing and not for smelling, it is therefore subject to the debate recorded in the next footnote of which we rule that a blessing is not to be recited.

[4] See Admur Seder 11:9; Shach 108 Yoreh Deah in Nekudos Hakesef; M”A 297:1

The reason: As the herb is mainly manufactured for food and tea brewing and not for its smell and one may not say a blessing on spices which are not commonly used by people for smelling and is rather used for spicing food. [1st opinion in Admur Seder 11:9 and so is final ruling; Shach 108 Yoreh Deah in Nekudos Hakesef; M”A 297:1]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one may say a blessing over all spices that one benefits from their smell even if they are not commonly smelled. [2nd opinion in Admur ibid; Taz 297:5; Yoreh Deah 108:10] Practically, Admur ibid suspects for both opinions and rules that one is to refrain from smelling them.

[5] Admur Seder ibid “It is proper to abstain from smelling them in order to avoid [the dispute brought in previous footnote and avoid] a Safek Bracha”; M”A ibid

[6] Background on how flavored and scented tea is manufactured: Flavored Teas are created by adding fruits, flowers and flavors to black, oolong or green teas. Genuine scented teas, such as Jasmine or Rose Congou, are made by forcing hot air over Jasmine or Rose blossoms that have been layered on top of the Camellia sinensis tea leaves. This imparts the scent of the flowers to the Camellia sinensis leaves used in plain tea, and influences the taste. Other teas of this type are Magnolia and Orchid. One of the most famous scented teas is Earl Grey. True Earl Grey employs bergamot oil sprayed onto the finished tea to achieve its unique flavor. Bergamot is a pear-shaped citrus fruit grown in southern Europe. Flavored teas, both regular and herbal, are processed in the same way. After placing the leaves in a rotating drum, the liquid flavor is sprayed directly onto the product.

[7] See Admur Seder 11:11; Michaber 217:3; Rambam Brachos 9:8

The reason: As if the source of the good smell has been removed, such as by scented clothing, then some opinions rule one cannot recite a blessing on this smell, as it does not have a source. [Michaber ibid; Rambam ibid] Practically one should suspect for their opinion and avoid smelling such items. [Admur Seder ibid]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one may say a blessing over all spices that one benefits from their smell even if their source has been removed. [Tur 217; See Taz 217:2]

[8] As it is difficult to determine what is the natural smell of the leaf versus the imported scent of the flavoring, and hence a blessing cannot be recited.

[9] Admur Seder 11:11 in suspicion of the opinion of Tur ibid

[10] What is herbal tea: The term herbal tea refers to drinks not made from Camellia sinensis but is rather made from infusions of fruit, leaves, or other parts of the plant, such as steeps of rosehip, chamomile, or rooibos. These are sometimes called tisanes or herbal infusions to prevent confusion with tea made from the tea plant. Herbal teas should not be confused with true teas (e.g., black, green, white, yellow, oolong), which are prepared from the cured leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis), nor with decaffeinated tea, in which the caffeine has been removed.

List of common herbal teas: Anise tea; Chamomile, Cinnamon, Citrus peel, including bergamot, lemon and orange peel, Dried lime tea, made from dried limes, is popular in western Asia, Ginger root, Ginseng, popular tea in China and Korea, Hibiscus, Honeybush, Labrador tea, Lemon Balm, Lemon and ginger tea, Lemon grass, Mint, especially peppermint (also mixed with green tea to make mint tea), Red raspberry leaf, Rooibos (Red Bush), In the US it is sometimes called red tea, Rosemary, Sagebrush, Sage, St. John’s Wort, Turmeric tea.

[11] See Admur Seder 11:9; See opinions brought in previous footnotes regarding plain tea

[12] Seder 11:3; Michaber 216:2; Tosafus Brachos 43b

[13] See Admur in Seder ibid; P”M 217 M”Z 1; Piskeiy Teshuvos 216:3 footnote 27

[14] Seder Bichas Hanehnin 11:1-2; Michaber 216:2; Brachos 43b

[15] See Admur Seder 11:7 that only if a mixture of Atzei and Isvei leaves have been ground together do we say Minei Besamim, otherwise the correct blessing of Atzei or Isvei is recited even though it is ground. This is unlike the law by foods which become Shehakol upon being ground.

[16] Birkeiy Yosef 216:2; Kaf Hachaim 216:13 that so is custom; See Beir Heiytiv 216:7; Piskeiy Teshuvos 216:2-6

[17] Admur Seder 11:3 [in end]; Michaber 216:2; Rambam Brachos 9:5

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