Oriental Beauty Bronze 東方美人
E'mei, Hsinchu, Taiwan
On my recent trip to Taiwan I was fortunate to source two grades of Oriental Beauty, crafted by a 76-years old tea master. One won the Gold Medal Award at the Annual Hsinchu Oriental Beauty Competition, and the other won the Bronze Medal Award. These teas exemplify what makes Oriental Beauty so sought after and so highly regarded in the world of tea.
We immediately notice the gorgeous spaciousness of this dried tea: its delicate, variegated silver and dark-red leaves seem to hold themselves up. Their aroma is arresting, with layered notes of flowers, honey and sunbaked earth.
The first infusion brews an apricot coloured liquor. We encounter the sweet earthiness of this tea, with lilly and cacao notes flickering on top of it. The second infusion brings out its tobacco and incensed notes, as we find it increasing in complexity. The wet leaves that have now unfolded completely are a deep, uniform sandalwood colour. Their fullness and opacity is something very unique to behold: they look and even smell a bit like sweet wood.
This tea can go on for many infusions without its character or colour waning. Subtle tannins reveal themselves as the intensity of its flavour subsides, creating an architecture that holds it on our palate a little longer.
After you’ve finished drinking the tea you must touch the leaves before discarding them. They feel unlike any other tea leaves – almost like a succulent, or arame seaweed – full of life.
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Oriental Beauty is a tea that occupies a category of its own. It is well known as a rare and precious tea, often commanding the highest prices of all teas from Taiwan.
There are a few reasons why Oriental Beauty carries both this value and reputation.
Firstly, it is entirely made from leaves that are bitten by a small fly. The bite from the fly is what begins this oolong’s process of oxidation, allowing it to happen while the leaves are still on the tree! We can attribute Oriental Beauty’s very unique and sweet characteristics to this little fly.
Secondly, like all highly prized tea, terroir is extremely important to Oriental Beauty. True Oriental Beauty will only come from one of two small villages, Beipu and E’mei. of Hsin Chu County. These two villages combined have an area of 90 km², (to put that in perspective, the city of Vancouver is 114 km²!)
Lastly, Oriental Beauty is extremely labour intensive to harvest and craft. The highest grades are made exclusively of the smallest and youngest one-bud-one-leaf. These tender leaves are very hard to pick. In one full day of harvesting, a skilled tea picker will only collect between 75 and 100 grams of fresh leaves. Thus, it takes 8 to 10 skilled tea pickers an entire day to collect enough leaves to make 500 grams of Oriental Beauty. As you can quickly calculate, the labour costs for Oriental Beauty are amongst the highest of all teas in the world.
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|30 - 90 sec
|No. of infusions