Was ‘the beauty from the Orient’ a bluff?

Oriental Beauty, also called “bluffing tea”, is a Taiwanese specialty. It is heavily fermented Oolong tea, around 60-85%. There is an interesting story about where the names came from, and how this tea was discovered by accident.

One summer in Taiwan, a couple of hundred years ago, was very harsh for tea farmers. It was extremely hot due to little rain during the growing season. Leafhoppers were thriving because of such warm weather, fed by drinking the juice from tea leaves. This caused great damage to tea farmers, because the bugs only attack newly grown leaves. Once the young buds were bitten, they started turning brown and stopped growing. This was a real pest issue out of hands.

Most farmers tried to harvest as much as they could to minimize the losses, by gathering as many helpers as possible. However, one young man couldn’t afford hiring helpers. All he could do was plucking while desperately watching his harvest of that season being ruined by the insects. Being hopeless and discouraged, the young farmer couldn’t care anymore how to make the tea properly. He carelessly roasted and dried the tea way too warm and way too long. Over-baking the tea resulted in an unusual funny scent which was considered a failure in tea making. Everyone in the village laughed and teased him that no way he could sell the failed tea. So the young man decided to try his luck by travelling to a harbor far away. Perhaps people in the city were more open minded to try different tea, and at worst, he could always dump the tea to the sea if it couldn’t be sold.

The harbor was busy, fully packed with trading ships from Europe. But the poor young man couldn’t find a buyer even in the city. He gave up trying and started discarding all his tea into the water. Luck didn’t seem to be on his side as he was chased away by the harbor guards. “No littering”!

A British trader walked to the young man, who felt hopeless with piles of unwanted tea that he couldn’t even get rid of. The trader kindly made an offer out of pity. The young farmer was thrilled to receive a handsome amount, which was a lot more than he could usually make with his tea at its best quality. He returned to the village and told stories about his adventure. No one believed him. People said he was only bluffing. The young farmer decided secretly that he will try his luck again next year, making the same kind of tea and selling it at the harbor.

As for the generous business man from Britain, his kindness paid off. He was pleasantly surprised by the colorful tea leaves (silver hair buds, red young sprouts and brown mature leaves) and the beautiful aroma. Therefore, the tea traveled far all the way to England and was presented as a tribute to the royalties. Everyone was amazed by its unique fruity taste and honey fragrance. Even the queen admired its graceful sensation, describing it as beautiful as an Asian lady’s figure.

The following year, western trading ships arrived at the Taiwanese harbor again, carrying back another load of Oriental Beauty to satisfy the growing thirst of this beautiful lady from the East. The British trader became the pioneer bringing the special Asian tea to Europe.  Witnessing the young farmer return again with pockets full of fortune, the villagers started making more and more of this particular tea – the “bluffing tea”!

Whether the story is real or just a legend told by the elders, it shows the trace of how tea traveled all the way from East to West. It also shows a spirit of not giving up when facing the most hopeless obstacles.

Next time at your tea party, one more story for you to share with your guests.

Cheers to the tea!

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