One of the most unusual teas on the planet- those bitten by a tiny bug- is the Royal Courtesan oolong. A perfect storm of conditions must occur for this tea to be made. Green Leaf Hoppers are tiny cicada native to Taiwan, and they feast on the small undeveloped tea leaf buds, drawing the astringent juices as their meal. In return, the tea leaf defends itself by sending polyphenols to the bite wounds, and a large amount of fragrance compounds also rush to the surface. We do not know exactly why that happens, but we hare happy to be the beneficiaries- the Leaf Hopper bitten teas have a surreal perfume that incites names such as Taiwan Beauty, and Royal Courtesan. However, unlike Taiwan Beauty, which grows on low elevations in order for the Leaf Hoppers to reach them- Royal Courtesan is made from Tung Ting Oolong, growing at 800 meters on top of the mountain, and a much larger, more mature leaf that Leaf Hoppers have difficult biting into.
Most importantly, Leaf Hoppers hardly could fly up to those elevations, and it is by chance each year whether they make it or not. This year in particular, due to frequent rain storms and alternating hot and cold days in an unusual pattern, it was for sure not a year to expect to have any Royal Courtesan.
Yet in a couple days that the conditions lined up, we did end up with Leaf Hopper bitten Tung Ting leaves, so we can thankfully offer up a very small quantity. Folks, a tea that the stars have to line up for, as elegant and perfumey as any courtesan in a king’s court- with a complex, strong body through multiple steepings-a tea that oolong aficionados can not pass up.