Eastern Beauty Oolong is also called “Dong Fang Mei Ren” or “Bai Hao Oolong”
Now just wait until you read about THIS tea, (which by the way, is one of the most famous oolongs from Taiwan) as to the reason for this tea’s unique taste. Eastern Beauty is a heavily oxidized Taiwanese Oolong which is very rich in terpenes (almost sounds like a kind of turtle don’t you think) but anyway terpenes are… official definition- are a large and diverse class of organic compounds, produced by a variety of plants, particularly conifers, and by some insects. They often have a strong odor and may protect the plants that produce them by deterring herbivores and by attracting predators and parasites of herbivores. Now, this intensified level is due to the processing of the leaf, but it can be even more complex if the leaves are attacked by tiny green leafhopper’s -Jacobiasca formosana. The signature aroma of Muscat grapes is because of BUGS! Yes bugs! Leaf Hoppers can be considered a pest for most crops, in fact they can be devastating to potato crops in the eastern United States, however these tiny leaping insects are essential to the production of Oriental Beauty tea.
In late May and early June, rising temperatures cause the tiny leafhoppers to begin their annual feasting on the succulent, young tea plants. Now, in most instances, tea gardens would work to rid their gardens of these pests, but for the tea farmers in Northwest Taiwan, these invaders are a welcome sight because their arrival marks the beginning of the season for making Eastern Beauty Oolong. The quality of the tea is actually determined by how much the leaves have been bitten by the leaf hoppers – the more bites the leaves have, the higher the quality of the tea. These leafhoppers do not mind the bitterness in the tea leaves and actually take small round bites out of each leaf and unable to escape from the danger, the plant reacts chemically within 20 minutes and produces the chemical compounds (the terpenes)
Growing Oriental Beauty tea can also be a challenge because to encourage the presence of leaf hoppers in the leaves, the tea farmers cannot use any pesticides because they will kill the leaf hoppers. Because of these leafhoppers, Oriental Beauty can only be made from leaves not sprayed with pesticides, and in a narrow band of elevation with ample sunlight and humidity. These factors, plus the skill required to process the leaf, add to the cost of this precious oolong.
So here is how this works…
when the tea plants are bitten by these leafhopper’s, the plant’s defense mechanism is triggered. They attack the tender stems of the unopened buds on the plant which in turn causes the plant to mount a defense by producing a group of volatile chemicals- the terpenes. Now, tea leaves with high levels of this hormone, when they undergo intensive oxidation, during processing, a Muscat like aroma develops.
The romance of this tea…
Well, for me it is two -fold. First, a bedtime story or a fairy tale if you like that better. Once upon a time, legend has it that a farmer left his tea garden because he was too busy to look after it. Maybe he was off drinking tea somewhere – well anyway, while he was away, his tea garden was terribly attacked by a large number of green flies. Now, when he finally returned to tend his tea garden, he discovered that all the bug bitten leaves had changed yellow in color, nevertheless, he still processed the tea leaves, because he could not afford to give up his tea. To his surprise, the tea processed from the insect bitten leaves produced an extraordinarily strong fruity flavor. He showed his finished tea to a local tea merchant who liked it well enough to pay him twice the price of his usual tea. When the farmer returned to his village and his tea garden, he boasted to his neighbors about his success. His neighbors believed he was exaggerating and so named his tea, Peng Feng Cha, or Braggart’s tea.
Second, another story as to the name Oriental Beauty…
There is an unsubstantiated legend as to the origins of the name Oriental Beauty. I kind of like it because its romantic and that coupled with the bugs – well, what’s not to like! Well anyway, according to the legend a British tea merchant presented this tea to Queen Victoria. After brewing, its appearance was breathtaking, like a beautiful dancer performing in a crystal cup. After tasting, the queen praised the tea and named it “Oriental Beauty”. A beautiful dancer- go figure.
I guess in the end we owe many thanks to the leafhopper’s for this tea!
Next… Eastern Beauty Oolong in my cup