• A Bug-Bitten Tea?

by Mindy Yang

If you’ve spent any time around hardcore Taiwanese tea drinkers, you probably ran into the term “bug-bitten”. And probably thought of this.

big bug bite

No? Just me? Anyway . . .

“Bug-bitten” refers to teas that come from tea plants where pest involvement is encouraged. In Taiwan, there is a common pest called a leafhopper (Jacobiasca formosana). The bug species is common throughout much of Asia. They are especially drawn to the phloem found in stems, leaves and buds of tea plants.

leafhopper

Once they’ve bitten into an unsuspecting tea leaf, an unusual chemical reaction occurs – producing two compounds, monoterpene diol and hotrienol. This chemical reaction is a defensive maneuver by the tea plant to attract spiders that feed on the li’l leafhoppers. However, there is an interesting side-effect to this.

The resulting chemical reaction also changes the flavor of the tea leaves, imbuing them with a honey-like sweetness. Appearance-wise, the tea leaves also develop white tips at their ends. This is where the term “white-tipped oolong” is derived. And speaking of white-tipped oolongs . . .

Dong Fang Mei Ren – or “Oriental Beauty”, as it is so often (and uncomfortably) translated – is the most famous bug-bitten tea of them all. So much so, that other parts of Taiwan have also tried withholding pesticide use to duplicate the sweet flavor. Gui Fei and Mi Xian oolongs come to mind.

The Oriental Beauty style of oolong is characterized by more open, twisty leaves given a 70% oxidation treatment. No roasting is administered. The cultivar of tea plant used to produce it is Chin Shin Dah Pan.

Visit Steep Stories for More on Tea.

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Mindy Yang
Mindy Yang

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