For a semi-fermented tea Oriental Beauty is quite highly oxidized--in the vicinity of 65 - 70%. It is traditionally crafted and formed in small batches in the open-leaf style and is hand sorted. To create the tea, only the fine white tips of freshly sprouted tea are plucked along with the small tender white buds that appear with new growth. The leaves and buds are gently rolled and left to oxidize briefly in the sun, gently darkening them and helping develop their delicate floral character. Next, the leaves are moved to the dryer where they are fired at high heat to lock in their exceptional flavor.
Oriental Beauty came into being in the late 19th century when Taiwan started exporting its tea overseas. Legend has it that it made its way to England where the Queen herself dubbed it “Oriental Beauty.” Truth be told, it almost didn’t make it there! In summer the tea gardens of Taiwan were overcome by swarms of cricket-like insects (jassids) that would eat the edges of the tea leaves. The farmers didn’t even bother to harvest the leaves because poor quality tea did not command a high enough price to make it worth their while. However, one farmer in Hsin Chu county didn't accept this fate. He harvested these bitten leaves nonetheless and managed to sell them for a high price to John Dodd, a prominent trader of the time. Today we know that the use of tea leaves infested by the jassids leads to higher contents of volatil aroma components in the finished tea. Today’s tea farmers use this to their advantage in the manufacture of Oriental Beauty.