Bug-bitten Oolong tea, also known as Oriental Beauty Oolong, originated in Taiwan in the early 20th century. The tea was discovered by a farmer who found a significant number of leafhoppers feasting on his tea bushes. Instead of abandoning the entire harvest, he decided to process the tea leaves, resulting in the first Oriental Beauty Oolong.
The tea was met with a great deal of positive feedback from the farmer’s friends and neighbors, who were amazed by its unusual sweetness. The farmer began selling the tea, and it quickly became a huge success. Since then, the leafhoppers have not been seen as an unwanted pest, but rather a welcomed guest.
Farmers use the term “Mi Xiang” to describe bug-bitten teas, which means “honey fragrance.” This refers to the sweet and aromatic notes that these teas develop.
Why Are Bugs Important for Bug-Bitten Tea?
When bugs bite tea leaves, the tea plant releases stored sugars to promote recovery, as it has a natural defense mechanism. Furthermore, the tea plant produces certain enzymes that alter the overall flavor of the tea.
Interestingly, the tea plant reacts differently depending on which pest is biting it. Only the tea leafhopper, found primarily in Taiwan, China, and Japan, causes this particular response in the plant, resulting in the unique and delicious flavor of bug-bitten tea. While high mountain bug-bitten teas exist, they are typically bitten by other pests such as aphids, resulting in a slightly different taste.
Leafhoppers are relatively small, about 3mm in size, leaving almost unnoticeable bites on the tea leaves. Skilled tea farmers can quickly spot the difference. The enzymes produced by the tea plant to ward off leafhoppers have a particular fragrance that attracts the leafhoppers’ predators, making it attractive to humans as well, especially tea connoisseurs.
Farming Bug-Bitten Tea
Farming bug-bitten teas is not as simple as it seems. Firstly, tea farms must be pesticide-free to attract tea bugs. However, keeping a pesticide-free garden has its own challenges. Not only might it attract the wrong kind of critters, but it could also attract too many leafhoppers, resulting in a bitter and unsellable tea.
To ensure a healthy tea garden, farmers must use sustainable farming methods. For example, closely monitoring the tea gardens and plucking the tea leaves as soon as they have sufficient bug bites. Tending to the weeds and plants around the tea garden also helps keep excess pests at bay.
Popular Types of Bug-Bitten Oolong Tea
Bug-bitten Oolong tea has become increasingly popular among tea connoisseurs around the world. Oriental Beauty Oolong tea and Red Oolong tea are two of the most popular types of bug-bitten Oolong tea.
Dong Fang Mei Ren
Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea, also known as Dongfang Meiren, was the first bug-bitten Oolong tea to be developed and remains the most popular. The tea leaves have a beautiful color ranging from greens to yellow and browns, resembling the colors of fall leaves. The tea has a honey-sweet taste with notes of chrysanthemum and ginger, and the aroma is reminiscent of champagne and foliage. Oriental Beauty Oolong tea is heavily oxidized, giving it a deep and robust flavor.
Bug-Bitten Red Oolong is a tea variety unique to Taiwan’s Luye Valley, located on the southeast side of the island. Tea farmers in the area take pride in the leafhoppers’ attraction to the site, and most producers practice organic farming techniques. The tea has a unique and robust flavor, with a taste that is honey-sweet and strongly roasted. The aroma of the Red Oolong tea is of ripe fruits.