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Bug Bitten Oolong: Dong Fang Mei Ren (東方美人茶) vs. Honey Scent Oolong(蜜香烏龍)

For our family, no tea is as close to our hearts as oolong tea. Out of all the wonderful oolongs produced here, Dong Fang Mei Ren (東方美人茶) and Honey Scent Oolong(蜜香烏龍), also known as Gui Fei Oolong(貴妃烏龍), are among the most precious. But what exactly are Dong Fang Mei Ren, or as we often call it, Dong Mei Oolong, and Honey Scent Oolong, and what makes them different?

Honey Scent Oolong

Dry tea leaves: Left hand side is Dong Fang Mei Ren. The appearance is straight, with five colors: red, white, yellow, brown, and green. Right hand side is Honey Scent Oolong; this tea is ball rolled like most Taiwanese oolong. You can see that white tips are present in Honey Scent Oolong.

Both Dong Mei and Honey Scent oolongs are produced from tea leaves that have been bitten by the green leafhopper (小綠葉蟬 - Jacobiasca Formosana).

Honey Scent Oolong

A green leafhopper perched on one of our tea trees.

According to research conducted by the Council of Agriculture (農業委員會), when growing tea leaves are bitten by green leafhoppers, the tea trees try to protect themselves by producing a chemical that attracts the green leafhoppers natural enemy, the white spotted spider (白斑蜡蛛 - Evarcha Albania). Once these bug bitten tea leaves go through the oxidation step of processing, the presence of this chemical gives the tea the unique and charming honey fragrance that Dong Mei and Honey Scent oolongs are famous for. However, the downside of bug bitten tea is in the undue stress put open the tea trees. Bug bitten leaves will continue to grow, but they will turn yellow from the damaging bites of the green leafhopper.

Honey Scent Oolong

Wet tea leaves: The Honey Scent Oolong has unfurled fully and shows a range of colors from almost black, to forest green. The Dong Fang Mei Ren is now almost entirely tan in color, and still retains a slight twist to its shape. You can also see how bud heavy Dong Fang Mei Ren is when compared to Honey Scent Oolong.

The most important distinguishing factor between Dong Mei Oolong and Honey Scent Oolong is in the cultivars used for their production. To be true Dong Fang Mei Ren Oolong, the Qing Xin Da Pan (青心大冇) cultivar must be used. The most famous place for producing Dong Fang Mei Ren oolong is Beipu Township, Hsinchu County(北埔鄉,新竹縣).

On the other hand, Honey Scent Oolong can be made using any cultivar that is not Qing Xin Da Pan. The most common cultivars used to make Honey Scent Oolong are Qing Xin Oolong (青心烏龍) and Jin Xuan Oolong (金萱烏龍).

Tea Soup: The cup on the left shows Honey Scent Oolong, while the cup on the right shows Dong Fang Mei Ren. Typically, Honey Scent Oolong is roasted, which results in a deeper, richer tea soup color than the light-gold tea soup Dong Fang Mei Ren tea typically has.

You may ask, why is Honey Scent Oolong sometimes called Gui Fei Oolong? The story goes that after the destructive 921 Earthquake struck Taiwan in 1999, tea farmers didn’t have any time to tend to their tea gardens. We had to focus on rebuilding our homes. Because we didn’t have time to visit our gardens, many insects took the opportunity to attack our tea trees – this included the green leafhopper. Once we were able to return to our gardens, many tea farmers felt it was a waste to discard these bug bitten tea leaves. But because most of the gardens in Nantou County did not use the Qing Xin Da Pan cultivar, we could not honestly call the tea Dong Fang Mei Ren Oolong. Instead, the name Gui Fei Oolong, which means “Imperial Concubine” gained popularity for this new style of bug bitten tea. Naming this tea Gui Fei was meant to evoke the same image of refined beauty that the name Dong Fang Mei Ren does.


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