Saturday March 19, 2011 | 2 comments
This exotic “Champagne of Teas” – also known as Formosa oolong, Champagne oolong, White Tip Oolong, Eastern Beauty, Bai Hao Oolong, Dong Fang Mei Ren, Pong Fong Cha, and Wu Se Cha – is probably the most fascinating of all oolong teas. It has been said that Longjing (Dragon Well) represents the best of the best of Chinese green teas and Don Fang Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty) represents the best of the oolongs.
First, a couple of interesting stories of how the names came about. Legend has it that one of the tea farmers in Hsinzhu County (central Taiwan) left his tea garden for some time, as he was too busy to take care of it. During his absence, his tea plants were attacked by a swarm of green insects and, as a result, the leaves turned yellow. Nevertheless, as he could not afford to lose his harvest, he went ahead and processed the tea leaves anyway. To his surprise, the tea processed from these insect-ravished leaves gave a very pleasant and fruity flavor. The European tea merchants at the time – Jardine Matheson and John Dodd – noticed this exceptional tea and were so impressed with its quality that they paid a very high price for it to this farmer. This farmer then proudly told his friends about the high price he had received for this tea. As a result, the people named it “Pong Fong Cha,” or braggart’s tea.
The tea then made its way to the British monarchy. It is said that the queen of England at the time sipped the tea from a crystal glass and was so impressed and enchanted by the beauty of the rich amber red color and the stunning flavor, that she likened it to an Eastern beauty dancing in the crystal glass and so named it “Oriental Beauty.”
The secret of Oriental Beauty tea is the insects – or leaf hoppers, as they are sometimes called. These insects are encouraged to bite the leaves, which causes a reaction between the insect’s chemical deposits and the tea leaf’s chemicals, creating honey sweet flavors and fragrances and initiating the oxidation process. It is generally recognized that the more insect bites, the higher the tea quality. For this reason, most oriental tea gardens are pesticide free and are, in many cases, organic tea gardens – even if not certified.
Oriental Beauty is one of the most heavily oxidized and withered oolong teas – usually between 60%-80% oxidized. The harvest time is in summer (June and July) when most of green leaf hoppers have bitten the leaves. Oriental Beauty is only made from the leaves that are bitten by the insects, which means that the tea farmers are very dependent on these insects returning to their tea garden each year. Plucking is carried out by selecting only the tea leaves that have been bitten. Only one bud and two leaves are carefully plucked by hand. The oxidation of Oriental Beauty is a slower process than regular oolongs. The leaves are more tender and fragile, so the process needs to be done more carefully and gently. It is also not rolled into balls as in the regular oolong process, as the leaves are dryer and would easily crumble. The finished dry tea is puffy and takes up a lot of space. A top grade Oriental Beauty tea leaf has five noticeable colors – white, green, yellow, red, and brown. It is probably the closest oolong tea to black tea. It keeps well and can be stored and aged – often improving in flavor over time.
The Camellia sinensis varietal grown for Oriental Beauty is primarily Ching xin and it is mostly grown in the Miaoli and Hsinzhu Counties in central Taiwan. It is also now being grown in mainland China and some other countries.