The origins of this tea are shrouded in folklore. The prevailing story dates back to the 1930s, when a farmer who had been traveling returned to his tea garden only to find that it had been attacked by insects. Not wanting to waste his crop, he harvested it anyway and to his surprise the processed leaves produced an exceptional aroma. His nearby tea merchant was equally impressed and offered him double the usual price. When the farmer came back to his village to share his feat, nobody would believe him and thought he was bragging. As such, in the local Hakka dialect, this tea is called Peng Feng or Pong Fong, which translates to Huff and Puff, and otherwise known as Braggart’s tea.
Whether true or not, this story is perhaps the first successful case of producing an insect-bitten tea and has since opened up a whole category of teas collectively labelled as Mi Xiang, which means Honey Fragrance. The tiny insect is now known to be the Jacobiasca formosana, aka the green leafhopper or tea jassid. It feeds by sucking phloem juices out of plants, which in turn initiates a self-defence mechanism in the plant by producing phytoalexins, specifically terpenes, and among which hotrienol. Terpenes have a two-fold function, they act as an insect-repellent and attract natural predators to the insects. Hotrienol is also found in grapes, honey and second-flush Darjeeling, for example, and is understood to be responsible for the desirable muscatel aroma. In order to attract the jassids, tea gardens must be entirely pesticide-free and generally at lower elevation where temperatures are warmer. Harvest is usually during the hottest mid-summer months, which is when these insects begin to proliferate. Unlike most other oolongs, only the bud plus 1-2 leaves are picked as they are the most tender and especially targeted by the jassids.
We suggest brewing this tea at lower temperature with longer steeping times as this helps accentuate the musky, fermented, sweet-sour muscatel notes. Progressing through the infusions, this tea gracefully transitions to a more woody character typical of a black tea. Also known as Oriental Beauty, a moniker supposedly given by Queen Elizabeth II after she fell in love with this tea. Other names include Bai Hao, White Tip oolong, Silver Tip oolong, Champagne Formosa, Champagne oolong, Five Colours tea, and Fan Zhuang.