When you get a good Oriental Beauty, you feel like you have arrived in tea heaven. The aroma alone is very floral and complex—not the fresh floral of some of the lightly oxidized oolongs, but a honey/carmel/peach/floral combination that gives as much pleasure in smelling as tasting the tea. It’s hard to describe this tea and do it justice so you simply must find a good one and taste for yourself.
Oriental Beauty is produced in Taiwan, grown at about 1,000 ft. elevation. It is a darker oolong with oxidation levels between 50% and 70%. This tea gets its unique character from the effect of a little insect called a Jassid that nibbles on the young tea leaf. The nibbling induces the plant to react with production of various chemicals (caffeine being one) to ward off the insect, which in turn creates the heavenly tea we love.
This past year has been a challenge for me with this tea. I had a really good one from a wholesaler I’ve grown to trust for quality. They ran out of their Oriental Beauty supply last August which meant I ran out in about September. The wholesaler was supposed to get a new crop in late August (the tea is plucked and processed in July) but didn’t. I tried some other sources, but the tea lacked complexity, and didn’t have much floral overtones. Needless to say, frustration set in and I was sure the elusive Jassid didn’t visit the tea gardens last year.
Finally, I was lucky enough to find a direct source of the tea from Taiwan. The producer sent me a sample of four “Oriental Beauty” teas and one clearly stood out: the White Tippy Premium Oriental Beauty. Of course this is the one that “wasn’t on the price list” because it is so rare (i.e. expensive). I bought it anyway because I had never tasted one so aromatic and complex. This is truly representative of the name and sets the bar for quality and character.
The lessons continue in tea sourcing: I have to taste, taste, taste and hold standards. People want good teas and I’ll keep working to find them.