This tea, also known as Dong Fang Mei Ren, Bai Hao Oolong and Pom Fong is considered among many experts to be the best tea in the world. It is certainly my favourite. It is also an extraordinary one, in its beautiful appearance, complex infusion and astounding fragrance which one can barely believe could come from the tea plant and not a grand parfumier’s blending room. That said, I doubt, even with all the fragrances in the world available to them that they could come up with a scent as delightful and yet completely natural as found in this tea. I like to keep the used leaves in my tea taster's covered cup or small tea pot for a few days, returning to an ever intensifying fragrance that can be almost overwhelming and certainly uplifting, bringing another unexpected pleasure long after the tea is drunk. Its equally unique flavour is so intense that it lingers on the palate for hours after drinking it. Naturally, these teas are in very scarce supply and this is because production relies upon a wonderful trick from nature. For just a few weeks in the summer, in just two small counties in Taiwan, a little grasshopper like insect is responsible for creating Oriental Beauty's incredibly rich, sweet, smooth and fragrant character. They feast on the emerging buds and secrete an enzyme, which inhibits the photosynthesis of the leaf and causes an increase in the levels of healthy polyphenols. Naturally, this means the garden must never be sprayed with insecticides. This magic, or chemistry is also why the best of these teas appear multi-hued in the dry leaf form, gold, green, brown, black and silvery white buds delight the eyes. The processing of these highest quality oolongs is carried out by a tea master whose experience and technique will have been learned over at least thirty years and is as important as the growing conditions to the quality of the final product. Dependent on how oxidised and roasted they are, we are given an incredible variety of spectacular flavours and fragrances to experience. Each 600g of finished tea requires four to five thousand bud and leaf sets to make, compared to one thousand for other high quality teas. Only the damaged leaves can be selected too making it incredibly labour intensive from start to finish. They are rich in antioxidants, are believed to lower cholesterol and aid digestion and relaxation.
I have chosen three teas this year, I say chosen but actually it was not being able to choose a favourite that meant I had to buy three! They are from Miaoli County, and include the ‘Competition’ Three and Two Flower winners, and for the first time ever the outright, 'First Rank' champion of champions! Sat side by side, they do have different characters but whichever one you chose will not disappoint. At this very highest level it is impossible to discriminate a better quality and the character is so complex it seems impossible to describe, changing from sip to sip it would seem. I have added a few notes to help you make a decision but as I said you cannot make a bad choice! Although the prices of the most famous varieties may seem a little high it is worth pointing out that the same leaves will withstand between 8 to 10 infusions when made in the 'Gong Fu' style, making each cup cost just a few pence. This section contains the 'Amber' or more heavily oxidised teas from Taiwan. You might also like to try one of Taiwan's world beating 'Jade' Oolongs. It is thought to have been named 'Oriental Beauty' by a Queen of England, Victoria or Elizabeth the Second, depending which legend you read. Whoever it was, it is hard to dispute their sentiment and judgement when you have tried it for yourself. It is in every way a beautiful tea.