Exploring Dongfang Meiren (Oriental Beauty): The Insect-Bitten Oolong Tea from Taiwan

Dongfang Meiren (東方美人), also known as Eastern Beauty or White-Tip Oolong, is a unique type of tea originating in Hsinchu County, Taiwan. It is produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant that are bitten by a particular insect called the tea jassid. This insect feeds on the tea plant and causes the release of terpenes in the bitten leaves, which give the tea its sweet, honey-like taste and aroma.

The Production Process

Dongfang Meiren is produced from a variety of cultivars of the tea plant that are grown without insecticides to encourage the tea jassid to feed on the leaves, stems, and buds. The insect bites trigger the oxidation of the leaves and tips, which adds a sweet note to the tea. The buds turn white along the edges, giving the tea its alternate name, White-Tip Oolong. The tea is heavily oxidized (around 70%), approaching the level of black tea, and uses only the bud and two leaves. The moisture content of dongfang meiren is higher than that of high mountain oolongs, so the withering process takes longer, which accelerates the hydrolysis and oxidation processes and generates the typical sweet flavor and taste of this tea.

Characteristics and Growing Conditions

Dongfang Meiren has a bright reddish-orange color and produces a sweet-tasting beverage without any bitterness. Dried leaves of high quality exhibit a pleasant aroma, with leaf coloration of dark purple and brown tones with white hairs. Because of the need for the tea jassid to feed on the leaves, the tea must be grown in warmer areas. In Taiwan, it is primarily grown in Hakka areas of the hilly northwestern part of the country at lower altitudes (300–800m) between the mountains and the plains. The tea bushes are planted on the leeward side of hills in areas with sufficient humidity and sunshine. The tea is only harvested in the middle of summer, and only about 40–50% of the leaves can be used, making the annual yield low and the price relatively high.

Similar Teas

The process of insect biting that produces Dongfang Meiren has inspired makers of other types of tea, such as Dongding Oolong and the east-coast black teas of Hualien and Taitung Counties, to withhold insecticide use in order to replicate this process in other teas. Similar action of jassids and thrips helps form the muscatel-like flavor of India’s second flush Darjeeling tea, to which Dongfang Meiren is sometimes compared.


Unlike other oolong teas, Dongfang Meiren tea requires lower temperature water of about 80°C–85°C and longer brewing times of 1–2 minutes for the first pot and subsequent brews. The leaves can be steeped multiple times, making it an economical choice.

History and Names

Tea merchant John Dodd is credited with exporting Dongfang Meiren tea to the west from his Tamsui base. In Mandarin Chinese, it is marketed as 東方美人茶 (dōngfāng měirén chá) and translated to “eastern or Oriental beauty tea” in English. However, the term “Oriental” has become increasingly disfavored in some Western countries since the 1970s.

Originally, farmers in Taiwan named the tea after insect pests that plagued the plants, including 煙仔茶 (ian-á tê), 蝝仔茶, 蜒仔茶, and 涎仔茶 (pronounced iân-á tê). As the tea became more valuable, the name 膨風茶 (phòng-hong tê, meaning “bragging or bluffing tea”) became common. In Siyen Hakka, the tea is also called 椪風茶 (phong-fûng chhà) or 冰風茶 (pên-fûng chhà).

Popular Stories

There are many stories about the tea’s origin and its name. One such tale suggests that a tea farmer in Beipu noticed that small green insects, later known as cicadas, had damaged the leaves of his newly picked spring crop. Rather than destroying his crop, he decided to process the leaves into tea. When he took his product to a local tea merchant, who liked it enough to pay him twice the price of his usual tea, he returned to his village and boasted to his neighbors about his success. His neighbors believed he was exaggerating and thus named his tea Peng Feng Cha [膨風茶], or Braggart’s tea.

In conclusion, Dongfang Meiren tea is a unique oolong tea with a fascinating history and different names depending on the language and region. Knowing how to prepare this tea properly will allow you to enjoy its full flavor and multiple infusions.

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