Let’s not beat around the tea bush here – this tea enjoys legendary status, and quite rightly so.
Part of the legend states that the name was bestowed upon this wonderful tea by none other than the Queen of England herself, although depending on who you ask that might have been Victoria or her great great granddaughter Elizabeth.
Best known as Oriental Beauty (Dong Fang Mei Ren), this tea also goes by the monikers White Tip (Bai Hao) Oolong as well as the less well known Braggarts Tea (Pong Fong Cha), thanks to the farmers who boasted how much more than ordinary Oolongs this tea would earn them.
This tea has a very close relationship with a particular insect – jacobiasca formosana, the small green leafhopper. This wee beastie nibbles on the tea plant, which in turn releases chemicals to defend itself with. These chemicals contribute to the tea’s wonderful flavour and aroma.
This means that a genuine Dong Fang Mei Ren tends to be cultivated at low altitude, where it is warmer, in order to accommodate the insects. Harvests take place in the summer, when the insects are most active.
I received this tea in the form of a 3 gram sample when I placed one of my recent orders with House of Tea.
It’s a summer 2016 production, of the Ching Xin cultivar, and comes from Emei township which is located in Hsinchu County, Taiwan, the recognised home of Oriental Beauty. It’s a highly oxidised tea at 70%, and was hand plucked as well as hand made.
Because this was a 3 gram sample, I used one of my smaller clay gaiwans with a capacity of about 100 ml.
Water was at about 95°C. After giving the tea a quick rinse, I used the rinse water to warm up the rest of the teaware.
I started off with a 10 second infusion, increasing the steeping time by 5 seconds for each new round.
The usual honey-roast brown sugar Oolong notes were there, but there was also a sweetness like plums or apricots, and a heavy floral aroma that reminded me of lavender.
This was a tea that suggested all things summery, and just like the summer itself this tea seemed to fade out all too soon – already by the fourth infusion the sweetness and flowery scent were tailing off noticeably, with an early-onset autumnal like hint of astringency appearing too. Still, the tea was good for 7 steepings, and my gut feeling is that the 3 gram sample was just too small to do the leaves justice, and that a bare minimum of 5 grams would be required to get the full benefit of what is when all is said and done a quality product.
As always when discussing a sample the pertinent question is would you actually buy the tea.
Yes, I would like to get my hands on some more to see if those couple of extra grams in the gaiwan does indeed make a difference, but I have to say that as nice as this tea was, it was just too similar in several key aspects to the Taiwanese Yu Chi Shan Cha I already have in. Perhaps when that’s all drunk up there’ll be room in my tea stash for a fruity, flowery heavily oxidised tea from Taiwan.
But that’s just me at this particular point in time. Oriental Beauty is still by any yardstick you might wish to shake at it a very good tea, and one you should definitely sample in your tea tasting career at some point or other.