Eco-Cha Tea Club: Honey Oolong Tea
Shown above is the historical tea producing community of Yonglong and Fenghuang Villages, located on the ridge just above Dong Ding Mountain. This month's batch of tea being shared with the Eco-Cha Tea Club is from our ongoing source of Dong Ding Oolong Tea.
A mom, dad, and son team manage their small family farm and process their crops on their own. And the recent spring harvest offered the pleasant surprise of one day's harvest turning out to be Honey Oolong. This name is properly used when the flavor of the tea has a distinct honey character that results from the Green Leafhopper working its magic. The Leafhopper (jacobiasca formosana) is a tiny green bug that likes to feed on the sap of the tender new leaf buds.
The leaf buds being bitten by this tiny green bug creates an immune system response in the plant that changes the chemical compounds in the bitten leaves. The effect, however, is seemingly mysterious and unpredictable! When this batch of tea was finished being processed, this family did not notice a "bug bitten flavor". But then, weeks later, when they began to roast this tea — as usual, in the making of Dong Ding Oolong — the honey flavor was distinctly noticeable after the first roasting! So with this batch that we have to share, the farmer left well enough alone after the first roasting, being quite satisfied with the flavor profile as it is!
We've heard similar accounts over the years from friends' experiences in roasting bug bitten leaves. The honey character literally appears and disappears, seemingly randomly, as a result of roasting! Our current batch of High Mountain Concubine Oolong has a similar story. Upon first roasting, the honey flavor was quite noticeable, but the artisan wanted a more pronounced roasted character, and proceeded to roast it again. After the second roasting, the honey flavor was gone! So she just packaged it up and let it rest for almost a year, then roasted it again, only to have the honey flavor be more prominent than ever! True story!
When we visited their home to taste their spring tea a few months ago, Mrs. Xie related how, on the day of harvest, the tea pickers were complaining about the relatively minimal yield of this crop. They complained because they are paid by weight. The leaves were more scarce than usual because the growth of the leaves is stunted as a result of being bitten by the Leafhopper. She also said that Leafhoppers were still present among the tea plants on the day of harvest. But that is the magic of this little bug — you just never know what it's going to end up tasting like! This is why it is not popular among tea farmers. It's just too unpredictable in the processing, along with the fact that the yield can be seriously compromised as a result of the stunted growth. So bug bitten tea that turns out well is truly special. It's a unique combination of factors that results in each batch turning out differently.
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