Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea. Hsinchu Taiwan 劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶 ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

I like tea and am lucky to enjoy some nice teas from time to time. But, today at Beipu 北埔 (Hsinchu County in Taiwan), I tasted a really special tea which is specially memorable.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

The tea has a royal golden yellow colour like saffron in water. The fragrance from the tea is like the gentle perfume of spring flowers. The tea felt pleasantly smooth on the palate like a luxury flower bath. The taste is a complex subtle yet distinctive natural sweetness. A lingering pleasure fills the entire mouth and nose, spreading through all the passages between them.

I am not good at describing tea at all, except that it felt exceptionally special. (Actually, it is hard to believe that it is just a variation of Oolong Tea - a staple that also comes in cans and plastic bottles.)

It is too easy to fall in love with this unforgettable tea.

Beipu-Old-Street
Beipu Old Market Street

This special tea comes first from Beipu 北埔 in Hsinchu county in Taiwan. (Just thirty minutes by High Speed Rail from Taipei.)

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶
Photo permission of 劉家龍茶園

This special tea was created almost two hundred years ago during an especially poor tea harvest in Beipu when most of the crop was ravaged by pests.

It was a lucky accident.

Dihua-Old-Street
This noodle shop is one of the oldest buildings in 迪化街. Only 3 of the original buildings remained.

According to legend, a Beipu tea planter harvested a batch of shrivelled Oolong tea leaves bitten by bugs as there was nothing left of his bug infested crop. He dried and baked the tea as usual and he brought it to 迪化街 the oldest market street in Taipei to sell. He wasn't expecting much, just wanted to salvage whatever little he could from a poor harvest to feed his hungry family.  

The tea was so aromatic and flavourful, word quickly spread about the special tea from Beipu. Soon, the demand for this "damaged" tea was so high it even started to fetch good prices. 

When the poor tea planter told his compatriots in Beipu about his good fortune, they thought he was simply bragging. The incredulous villagers gave the tea the name, Poon Hong Teh 膨風茶 or "blow horn tea" in Hokkien.  

But, it was no humbug. 

The special qualities of "blow horn tea" continued to be well appreciated and its reputation kept growing. It soon became a priced tea for the rich as it was rare and wonderful.

Queen-Victoria
Public Domain photo 

It was even presented as a special gift from John Dodd, the top tea merchant in Taiwan to Queen Victoria of England. The Queen loved "blow horn tea" so much that she gave it a name much more befitting its exquisite qualities and good taste. She called the tea "Oriental Beauty" because when the dry tea leaves soak in hot water, they expand and suspend in water like beautiful floating fairies.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

"Oriental Beauty" became the legendary Taiwanese tea sought after by tea connoisseurs around the world to this day.

Leafhopper
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The special tea is made from Oolong tea leaves (grown without pesticides) that had been attacked by tiny green leafhoppers 小綠葉蟬 less than 1 cm long. The greater the "damage" from tea bugs, the greater the protective enzymes produced in the leaves, hence, the greater the special "Oriental Beauty" fragrance and sweet flavour.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶
Photo permission of 劉家龍茶園

"Oriental Beauty" comes in 10 grades, which are handpicked according to the extend of "damage" from leafhoppers. Tea leaf buds attacked by leafhoppers are stunned and will not extend or open fully. Current prices for "Oriental Beauty" range from NT$900 to NT$5,000 (US$165) per four Taiwan taels 両 (37.5 grams x 4 = 150 grams). 

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶Photo permission of 劉家龍茶園 

Mr 劉 is a second generation tea planter who is well known in Beipu for his "Oriental Beauty" teas.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶
Photos permission of 劉家龍茶園


劉家龍茶園 tea leaves are first sun dried and then baked over smothering charcoal embers the traditional way.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

After slow baking for a few months, the tea is allowed to age in clay tea urns for up to 30 years. All "Oriental Beauty" teas have the signature smell and taste but each batch of the tea in the urns have their own character from ageing and interaction with the clay tea urn. Every brew is a surprise but always a delight.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

If you are a tea lover, you will love a taste of "Oriental Beauty" Oolong tea.

(Needless to say, fakes and adulterated versions are plentiful. Get "Oriental Beauty" tea only from trustworthy tea merchants.)

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

劉 and wife 余 serve their "Oriental Beauty" tea at the 劉家龍茶園 retail shop at Zhengde Street in Beipu.

Oriental-Beauty-Oolong-Tea-Hsinchu-Taiwan-劉家龍茶園.東方美人茶

劉家龍茶園
AddressNo. 43, Zhengde Street, Beipu Township, Hsinchu County, Taiwan 314
GPS24°42'09.9"N 121°03'23.1"E | 24.702752, 121.056422
Tel+886 3 580 4318
Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm (Monday off)

No pork, no lard, no Halal cert

Date: 22 Oct 2017

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I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints as it makes this blog better :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is unethical in the same way as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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