DMS “Cha Nang Ngam” Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea – North Thailand’s “Dong Fang Mei Ren”
Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea, one of the very boldest names in the world of tea, originally comes from Taiwan, where it is traditionally yielded from the Cing Xin tea cultivar. Though it doesn’t appear in the List of the „Great Teas of China“ – due to its Taiwanese origin – there is hardly a tea lover who isn’t acquainted with the name, and whoever undertakes their first dive into tea, in particular Oolong tea, will very soon encounter Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea, if not under this title, then under one the many other designations for this tea. At this, the high degree of prominence and popularity doesn’t come by chance, but builds on the naturally limited availability and the particularly complex picking and processing methods of Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea.
Nomenclature and History of Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea / Dong Fang Mei Ren
„Oriental Beauty“ is the literal English translation of the Chinese name for this tea, “Dong Fang Mei Ren”. Just like to most traditional Chinese (or Taiwanese) teas, there is an often told, nice little legend to Oriental Beauty Oolong, too, according to which the tea once received this name from a British Queen (with Queen Victoria and Queen Elisabeth alternating from version to version), after a British tea merchant called John Dodd had brought the tea for her from Taiwan, with the Queen allegedly being highly excited by the tea’s unique and precious taste. In Taiwan, Oriental Beauty was referred to as “Peng Feng Cha” (= “Bragger’s Tea”) at that time. Though sources with a certain historical aspiration today mostly claim that this story might be fictitious and is not based on facts, one could still give it some credit for not being too unrealistic in theory at least.
“Bragger’s Tea”? “Peng Feng Cha”, the denomination for Oriental Beauty Oolong tea most common in Taiwan – both traditionally and today – in English translating to “Bragger’s Tea” hints to another, historically comparably well documented little story regarding the origin of this special type of tea: a Taiwanese tea farmer named Jiang (or similar) once harvested – contrary to the common habit and most probably due to shortage of money – tea leaves in the summer months, despite these typically being infested by insect plague during that time, and scored unusually high prices on the market with the tea yielded from these leaves. Back home then, he told his story to neighbours and acquaintances, who did not want to believe him, but were laughing at him and calling him a bragger instead. Indeed, though, there is a bequeathed article from Taiwanese trade journal published in 1933, telling about such tea of a farmer being awarded on a national tea contest, with that farmer scoring an unusually high price for that tea as a result. As for the original story and/or the question whether it might indeed be based on the same event as said mentioning the Taiwanese trade journal, we could once again say that what really counts is that it could have been like this or have happened in a similar way. In fact, there are even a few more traditional denominations for Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea existing in Taiwan, and we could assume that each of these might have its own little story going along with it.
Cing Xin cultivar – young red tea leaves in February
Because of the white (sometimes also silver or golden) coloring of the Cing Xin tea cultivar’s young buds, Oriental Beauty Oolong tea is also often referred to as “White Tip Oolong” or “Bai Hao Oolong Tea”. Further, the particularly precious and rare character have earned the tea the title “Champagne Oolong”.
Cing Xin tea flower in February, Doi Mae Salong
Characteristics and Processing of Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea
The tea gardens in Taiwan, in particular those situated in lower – and thereby hotter – plains are typically infested by an insect plague during the summer months. Therefore, before the discovery and spread of Oriental Beauty Oolong tea, is was common to halt harvesting during these months, as the insect-infested tea leaves were considered as poor quality. Whether now the story about the discovery of Oriental Beauty Oolong told above really has happened this way or not, somebody discovered at some point, most probably during the late 19. century, that the interaction of a particular leafhopper type, namely a a green tea leafhopper with the scientific denomination Jacobiasca formosana, with the tea plants of the Cing Xing cultivar effects special – and highly desirable – taste properties in the resulting tea. The leaves of the tea plant are bitten by the small animals during the time before the harvest, whereas their proboscis leaves behind a secretion in the tea leaf that mixes and reacts there with the remainder tea juices. This process leaves behind a small white spot on the leaf. Prerequisite for the green tea leafhopper not to despise a tea garden is the absence of any pesticides. Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea can therefore be picked only from 100% organic, i.e. pesticide-free tea gardens. This and the limitation of the harvesting period to the summer months with appropriate green leafhopper prevalence are responsible for the rare character of Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea.
Another factor for the generally rather proud price and the prominent rating of Oriental Beauty amongst Oolong teas in general as well as amongst Thai-Oolongs is the comparably complex and expensive picking and processing procedure involved with this tea. With a picking standard of 2+1 (one young bud each with the two pertaining most upper leaves), only such buds and leaves are selected that besides general maturity fulfill another criterion, namely that of the green leafhopper’s bite marks in the form of visible white leaf stains.
The characteristic processing method of Oriental Beauty in Taiwan is that to an Oolong tea with a rather high degree of oxidation already close to that of a black tea. The process involves a particularly complex and sensible combination of wilting and roasting steps, whith the initial withering phase for an Oriental Beauty Oolong being comparably long and the ensuing roasting process being followed by another withering phase, at which the still hot tea leaves are covered with a moist cloth. Typically, Oriental Beauty Oolong tea leaves are rolled to the form of small granules during the processing, which is characteristic for most Taiwanese Oolong teas.
Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea in Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand – “Cha Nang Ngam”
Since the 1990s, the Cing Xing cultivar is along with some other tea cultivars imported from Taiwan to north Thailand, where it has since been cultivated and processed especially in the Chinese-inhabited town and region of Doi Mae Salong. The results, which did not have to hide from the original right from the start, have developed their own individual, origin-bound properties and characteristics in the course of the years. For example, in deviation from the Taiwanese prototype and possibly influenced by the Chinese trend of processing Dong Fang Mei Ren to a much lower degree of oxidation than in Taiwan, the processing standard of the northern Thai “cha Nang ngam” (Thai for “Oriental Beauty Tea”) is a medium degree of oxidation, as a result highlighting the special floral taste notes of this tea cultivar and granting them a certain dominance over the characteristic sweetness of Oriental Beauty Oolong tea. Altogether, the tea is turning out more complex this way and is gaining on multifacetedness and depth.
It is also interesting that the tea leves of the Cing Xin cultivar in north Thailand is used to produce an outstanding green tea (DMS Cing Xing Green Pearls) outside the “green leafhopper season”, i.e. during the remainder cooler and/or dryer months of the tea harvesting cycle. Our partner at Doi Mae Salong produces both versions at best picking standard and highest processing quality. So, where this blog should have managed now to make you curious about Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea / Dong Fang Mei Ren in general or “cha nang Ngam” Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea from Doi Mae Salong in particular, you might want to click on the following link for more information and a reasonably priced buying option:
DMS Cha Nang Ngam Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea at Siam Tea Shop
February tips of Cing Xin tea plant, Doi Mae Salong, north Thailand
Great article. Do you know if the little hopper is present in northern Thailand or is it just a processing technique they use to best match aroma / flavour of original leaf bitten OB.
Is it also a summer harvest in the hills of northern Thailand?
Alan, if that hopper isn’t present in north Thailand, than somebody else must bite our Oriental Beauty! 🙂