One of the stranger types of tea I’ve written about was poo poo puerh, a curious variety also known as grain moth tea, chong cha or worm tea, among other things. Not to be indelicate about it, but it’s a tea that’s made by feeding grain moths with puerh tea, then harvesting the excrement and using it to make a very distinctive beverage. Which is actually rather indelicate, now that you mention it.
I was reminded of this oddity not so long ago when I was looking through Victor Mair and Erling Hoh’s The True History of Tea and found a passage on Bragger’s Tea. As the story goes, in the latter part of the nineteenth century tea farmers in a certain region of Taiwan found themselves besieged by a plague of insects. Specifically a type of leafhopper that was particularly fond of tea leaves and which tended to latch onto them and drain the sap, making them decidedly unfit for consumption.
Or were they? Though the insects were especially voracious in a certain year some of the farmers decided to follow the age-old dictum of taking the lemons they were presented with and making them into lemonade. They went ahead and harvested the insect-damaged leaves and took them to market just as they always had. The tea was an unexpected hit and brought the farmers such high prices that other farmers were skeptical and gave it the name Pengfeng Cha, or Bragger’s Tea.
Which is a right interesting tale in itself but there’s more. Apparently Queen Victoria got her hands on some Bragger’s Tea (the authors acknowledge that this could be a legend and at least one other reliable source agrees) and took a liking to it. She gave it the name Oriental Beauty and it’s still called that to this day. As the story goes a small number of Taiwanese tea farmers are still inviting the necessary bugs into their gardens to work their pesky magic.
You can consult your favorite search engine and lay your hands on some Oriental Beauty even now, though the merchants who offer it don’t specify whether it’s been insect damaged. So perhaps this is just another of those quaint myths about tea or maybe it’s the real deal. But it makes for an interesting yarn either way.
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