Dec 28, 2008

Bai Hao Oolong (Oriental Beauty, 白毫烏龍,椪風烏龍)

A few books (such as China Tea Book, 中國茶譜,Edited by Wan Xiaochun, 宛曉春)document that "椪風“ (Peng Feng) means bragging or "talking through one's hat" in local dialect. When this varietal first appeared in market in 1920s, it was a year that most tea in Xin Zhu county suffered severe cicade attack. (The cicade is likely Jacobiasca formosana, but I am not familiar with insects at all and not sure of it for now.) Tea leaves were partially damaged with bug bites. Most farmers gave up harvesting, thinking the damaged tea leaves worthless. There was one farmer who didn't have the heart to give up a whole year's hard work. He made some tea from the damaged leaves anyway and took it to market. The tea turned out so good that it was easily sold for a price 13 times higher than the market average. When the proud farmer of this tea told his fellow villagers about this, nobody believed it and everybody thought he was just bragging (椪風, Peng Feng). There came the name, Peng Feng Oolong 椪風烏龍。

This story is very likely to be true. And I love the story! Bai Hao Oolong is one more beautiful thing discovered accidentally, just like Tofu, cheese, and wine, which were all "invented" by accident. This is all because someone wouldn't pass it as an accident.

This is one of my favorite oolong varietals. It has the intensiveness of traditional oolong, without that much roughness. I imagine in old days, most traditional oolongs were very strong and even somewhat rough. And there wasn't any of the greener style oolong yet. Then it's not hard to understand why this tea was once worth more than 10 folds of market average price, with its unique rich fruity aroma.

Most Bai Hao Oolong products have rather complete leaves. If there are cicade bites then they must be too small to see on the processed tea leaves. I am still curious to know how much the cicade contributes to flavor of this tea, and whether most flavor is from the tea itself or due to bug attack. I believe bugs do wonderful things to our food. Come to think of it, many of our fragrant food sources, tea, coffee, herbs... they have all developed their aroma as defensive mechanism in long history of coevolution with bugs, and that's how we get our favorite flavors from plants.

Dry, loose leaves

First infusionW

Wet leaves
Spent leaves

3 comments:

Salsero said...

That's a lovely teapot in the second photo and I love the ceramic tea tray you posted earlier today. Thanks for sharing.

Gingko Bay said...

Thanks :D The ceramic tray is not very good though. It has good structure, but a misprint line and some discolor. I guess it's a lower grade replica of some tea tray :-p

Eric - Tea Finely Brewed said...

Enjoyed reading this this morning while writing a review of your wonderful superior grade bai hao oolong.

This reminds me of the story of hojicha, which was created by roasting the excess tea stalks that would normally have been thrown away. It's fascinating reading about how different tea varieties are invented.