Surely, bug bites can't be a good thing? We're here to tell you that with certain bugs and certain tea leaves, under certain conditions, bug bites can create delightful aromas in tea.
What are bug-bitten teas?
Bug-bitten teas were invented in Taiwan. They have a noticeable honey-sweet aroma that is not artificially added. In fact, this sweetness exudes from the plant when it is nibbled on by tiny leafhoppers (specifically, the Jacobiasca formosana species). The insect’s bites are so small, they are barely visible to the naked eye, but they have a big impact on the flavour of the resulting tea.
The magic of a bug bite
In general, nobody wants insects feasting on tea plants. But in this case, when these leafhoppers start nibbling on the tea leaves, something wonderful happens. The resulting tea has a honey-like sweetness that can’t be emulated in any other way.
Here's how it works:
Plants are clever
When being bitten, plants defend themselves in a variety of ways. They make their leaves less nutritious, create toxins or release chemicals that either repel the insect or attract its enemy.
They know who’s attacking them
The amazing thing is, plants can sense what kind of insect is doing the damage and tailor their defense strategy accordingly. For this leafhopper, the plants release a particular blend of chemicals that seems to attract the spiders that prey on the ‘hoppers.
To us, revenge is sweet
This particular blend of chemicals happens to smell sweet to us humans. You can actually smell the sweetness in the air when walking in the fields!
But balance is key
Tea farmers have the difficult task of keeping the leafhopper population at exactly the right levels, because you can’t make good quality tea if there is too little or too much leafhopper damage. A little damage reduces bitterness, but too much damage actually increases bitterness in the tea.
Types of bug-bitten teas to try
There are many bug-bitten teas out there to try! We find the best ones are from Taiwan and harvested in summer, when leafhopper populations abound.
We have two oolongs and one black tea in our bug-bitten collection. We recommend trying all three side-by-side to get familiar with the various flavours that can be achieved with these incredible teas.
Oriental Beauty 東方美人
Category: Oolong tea
Origin: Hsinchu, Taiwan
Tasting notes: Honey, peach, malty
Said to be named by an English queen for the colourful, elegant appearance of the leaves that dance in the water, Oriental Beauty is one of Taiwan's most highly prized teas.
It is the only oolong to contain white furry buds, making it delicately floral, and it's heavily oxidised (70-80%), giving it a malty flavour. And essential tea for every tea infusiast's collection.
Try: Oriental Beauty
Red Oolong (Organic) 紅烏龍
Category: Black-Oolong hybrid
Origin: Taitung, Taiwan
Tasting notes: Malty, ripe fruit, caramel
This breakthrough oolong-black hybrid tea was invented in 2008 by Lian A Na in collaboration with Taiwan’s Tea Research and Extension Station. She has an organic tea farm in the idyllic Taitung region.
This tea is made of organic leaves, heavily oxidised for a fruity flavour and roasted for a caramel finish.
Try: Red Oolong (Organic)
Honey Scent Black Tea 瑞穗蜜香紅茶
Category: Black tea
Origin: Hualien, Taiwan
Tasting notes: Nectar, peach, honey
A representative of Taiwanese bug-bitten teas, this black tea is loved for its alluring honey-sweet aroma.
We source this tea from Mr & Mrs Gao, who were the first to experiment with bug-bitten black teas in 1999 at their Jia Ming Tea Farm in Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. It has a long-lasting aftertaste as makes a wonderful cold-brew too!