This week, as I sit down to write a post I'm drinking on an old, reliable tea: Oriental Beauty. I've had and continue to have a very casual relationship with this sweet, oxidized Taiwanese oolong. It's never my go-to tea when I want to get enveloped in my brewing or tasting, and it's not usually something I bring out to leave an impression on tea friends. But I do like to keep it around, because this tea is so soft and sweet and easygoing.
It's a nice way to wake up, like eating a silky congee to coax your system from sleep to wakefulness. I always brew this tea grandpa style. The leaves sit amiably in a bath of hot water, producing a leafy, fragrant broth.
Last season when Shiuwen was in Taiwan she tasted an Oriental Beauty that is a grade higher than the shop's usual fare. It was a special crop, with a nicely pronounced honey sweetness and a lightness of body that makes it unique among OBs. So that is the tea I'm drinking on now, and I do like to drink it, too!
For the uninitiated, I will write a quick OB spiel that you would hear in any tea shop that sells the stuff. It is a bug-bitten tea, which means the plant is left in the summertime with no pesticides so that a specific bug, called a tea jassid, will come and bite the leaf. The wound from the bug bite produces a reaction in the plant which humans, when we steep it and drink it, perceive as a special kind of sweetness. Then the tea is processed as an oolong and oxidized fairly dark to round out that unique sweet note. I've heard the jassid bite is not sought after in other teas, and may negatively affect the taste of the tea if it were a green tea, for example.
I have noticed in other organic teas from the same area (for example, a very tasty organic Hong Shui I've been drinking on) that there is sometimes an OB-like sweetness that shows up. It reminds me a bit of the sweet smell that rising bread gives off as the yeast is doing its job. This is probably because the tea was bitten due to the lack of pesticide application and then oxidized (Hong Shui is a dark oxidized oolong). I believe that if you smell an OB type of honey smell in your oolong, and especially if the leaves look bug bitten when they open up, then the tea was probably grown with little to no pesticides. What differentiates OB from other bug bitten teas is that it is grown with the Qingxin Dapa varietal (also known as Braggard's Tea in Taiwanese) and that it is only harvested once a year, in the summer.
So there you go! It's a sweet, smoochy kind of tea. I love Oriental Beauty like an old friend who is easy to talk to. It is never exciting but still an integral part of my stash.