Certain teas are almost always identified by one easy-to-remember umbrella name, like Dragonwell or Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy). There may be a more specific appellation to describe the tea plant cultivar or specific growing location, but the common name is always there. Today’s tea definitely doesn’t fall into that category–alternately known as Bai Hao, Dongfang Mei Ren, Oriental Beauty and Fancy Formosa, it can be tough to tell just which name is “correct.”
What’s indisputable, though, is that Oriental Beauty (we’re using its most common English handle) is a Taiwanese oolong like very few others. Looking at the tea’s close-up portrait above, you might even mistake it for a Darjeeling with its silvery tips and the leaves’ rusty hue. Indeed, the resemblance is remarkable (though a true tea sleuth would likely point to the presence of stems and the by-and-large unbroken condition of the leaves as evidence that it’s not Darjeeling). Still, the comparison rings true in some ways–the reddish color of the leaves gives away this tea’s high oxidation–it’s sometimes as high as 80%, which is treading mighty close to black tea territory. It’s also often unroasted and dried using an extended withering process. Perhaps most interestingly, Oriental Beauty producers actually encourage a parasitic “leaf hopper” insect to bite the tea leaves–the insects’ saliva produces a chemical response in the leaves that is absolutely crucial to achieving its hallmark flavor characteristics.
Like out High Mt. Alishan, it’s been quite a while since we’ve had a new Oriental Beauty oolong. Compared to other years’ harvests, I think this tea is on the lighter side–it’s more delicate and subtle rather than robust or verging on malty. This subtlety allows the tea’s floral aspects to come out more than usual–the aroma has much more of a flowery scent, though the primary flavor is still fruity/honey notes. Drinking my first cup, I was immediately struck by some astringency at the front of my mouth, which actually complemented the tea’s sweet finish quite well. This tea’s special processing makes for really interesting-looking wet leaves, with an almost iridescent quality to the oxidized patches, which often cover most of an entire leaf. We recommend a slightly longer (4 minutes for a large pot or mug) steeping to fully develop this oolong’s body.