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What is Honey Flavor Tea?

Honey flavor tea (also known as Mi Xiang, honey fragrance or honey aroma tea) is an emerging class of teas that has been developed in Taiwan relatively recently. There exist honey fragrance green tea, honey fragrance black tea, penfeng cha (also known as "Oriental Beauty" or "White-tip Oolong"), guifei (also known as "Imperial Concubine") honey fragrance red oolong, tieguanyin, etc. Despite such a variety of teas, the actual produced amount of honey flavor tea is still relatively low.

But does the honey flavor appear from adding honey to the tea, or is it the processing of the leaves? This is the most common question asked by general consumers. It has been scientifically proven that only the tea leaves that have been sucked by small green leafhoppers can produce a flavor similar to natural honey after processing. In other words, to make tea with a natural honey aroma, it is a necessary condition that the tea leaves are sucked by small green leafhoppers.

Small green leafhopper adult
Small green leafhopper adult. Source: Taiwan Ministry of Agriculture

Young leaves sucked by small green leafhoppers
Young leaves sucked by small green leafhoppers. Source: Taiwan Ministry of Agriculture

Types of honey flavor tea

Oriental Beauty / White-tip Oolong

Oriental Beauty Ooolong leaves with white hairs
Oriental Beauty Ooolong

Known by many names, this is by far the most famous kind of tea that is made from leafhopper-bitten leaves, and the hardest to produce. The farmers must attract and keep the small green leafhoppers on their farms to feed on the tea leaves and start the enzyme reactions in them. The tea plants chosen for the highest quality of oriental beauty have to have lots of white hairs on their buds. The picking process goes through thorough screening: only the highest quality of one bud and two leaves are picked (also known as FOP or Flowery Orange Pekoe by Western classification of black tea). The leaves are heavily oxidized and then baked (this is where the production nuances differ depending on the region and master). The result is a strong honey flavor in the nose with an explosive floral and fruity taste. It can have sour notes not unlike passion fruit, added to the prominent sweetness of caramelized sugar and honey.

Honey flavor green tea

Honey flavor green tea; Source: Taiwan Ministry of Agriculture
Honey flavor green tea; Source: Taiwan Ministry of Agriculture

Green tea is proven to have many benefits for our health. It is also a very refreshing tea for warmer months. However, some people find green tea too bitter or astringent and opt for sweeter teas. The "honey flavor green tea" is a new type of green tea created to address the common shortcomings of green tea. It doesn't just subvert the aroma of traditional green tea but presents an outright new aroma that leaves a deep impression on many people who first try it. In addition to retaining the good health effects of regular green tea, honey flavor green tea is made from young heart buds, so the amino acid content is very rich. This results in a sweet but refreshing cup of tea. If you would like to drink green tea, but find it difficult to accept the bitterness and the grassy smell of traditional green tea, the sweet and refreshing honey flavor of green tea is worth trying.

Honey flavor black tea

Honey flavor black tea
Honey flavor black tea

The Taitung branch of the Tea Industry Improvement Center (which we can also thank for developing red oolong) developed honey flavor black tea sucked by small green leafhoppers. In addition to focusing on the taste of black tea, using the leaves that the small green leafhopper feasted on. Such raw material alleviated the elegant aroma and quality of black tea. As such, honey flavor black tea is perfect for both cold and hot drinks. When cold-brewed, the honey aroma is more mellow. At present, honey flavor black tea has become a specialty tea in the Huadong region, especially the honey fragrance black tea produced in Wuhe Village, Ruisui Township, Hualien County, which is of excellent quality and has become the representative tea of ​​Hualien County. We are proud to offer exactly this tea from that area as Honey B. - Honey Fragrance Black Tea.

Honey red oolong

Luye Red Oolong leaves
Luye Red Oolong

Red Oolong is Taiwan's emerging specialty tea, developed by the Taitung Branch of the Tea Industry Improvement Center in 2008. After its launch, it has been loved and praised by consumers and has become a bright new star in the tea industry. Red oolong is a newly created tea that combines the processing characteristics and quality characteristics of oolong tea and black tea. The degree of oxidation can be said to be the highest among oolong teas at present. The tea is thick and has a ripe fruit aroma and is suitable for cold and hot brewing, especially cold brewing. While Luye red oolong in itself is an interesting tea, if made from leafhopper-bitten leaves, the taste and aroma are enhanced even further.

Gui Fei / Imperial Concubine oolong

Gui Fei Oolong Leaves (Baöö-rolled)
Gui Fei Oolong

Dongding-style oolong teas have lots of charm and character expressed through roasting and oxidation, while Oriental Beauty tea is known as the tea with the most flavor among Taiwanese teas. Both of these two famous teas have their own characteristics and advantages. Yet there's a tea out there that combines the character of Dongding Oolongs and the honey aroma of Oriental Beauty. This is the Imperial Concubine Tea or Guifei Oolong that has become popular in the Nantou tea area in recent years. It fascinates with its multiple sweet flavors such as caramel and ripe fruit aroma. Different from Oriental Beauty's strip-like shape, Guifei Oolong has a richer honey aroma and has an additional rolling step in the production process.

The "honey flavor" on a chemical level

Honey dipper taking out honey from a jar
Honey dipper

While we don't know how the "honey fragrance" chemical components are formed in the leaves, the scientific community has at least been able to identify them. In 1990, the Japanese scholar Akio Kobayashi was the first to research the aroma components of honey-flavored tea. His research showed that the aroma components of Oriental Beauty Tea have two major characteristics. First, Oriental Beauty Tea contains a large amount of linalool and linalool derivatives (linalool Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ), much higher than that of ordinary oolong tea, and the content of linalool Ⅰ and linalool Ⅱ in Oriental Beauty Tea is nearly 1 to 10 times higher than that of ordinary oolong tea and black tea. Another feature is that Oriental Beauty is extremely rich in 3,7-dimethyl-1,5,7-octatrien-3-ol, 3-20 times higher than that of oolong tea and black tea. Akio Kobayashi speculated that this was most likely the characteristic aroma component of Oriental Beauty Tea, and that it could be produced by the tea greens sucked by small green leafhoppers, but it was not yet clearly confirmed at the time.

In 1996, Akio and others conducted another study on the characteristic aroma components of honey-flavored tea. They compared the teas sucked by small green leafhoppers (Oriental Beauty and Darjeeling black tea)to black teas without honey flavor that didn't come in contact with the leafhopper. The results showed that Darjeeling black tea and Oriental Beauty tea from India, which also have a honey-like flavor after being sucked by the green leafhopper, are rich in 2,6-dimethyl-3,7-octadiene. In addition, Oriental Beauty Tea and Darjeeling Black Tea also have a very high content of another ingredient, namely 3,7-dimethyl-1,5,7-octatrien-3-ol. In short, the "honey" flavor is characterized by two components, namely 2,6-dimethyl-3,7-octadiene-2,6-diol and 3,7-dimethyl-1 ,5,7-octatrien-3-ol. Many other Darjeeling black tea aroma research reports also show that Darjeeling black tea contains high amounts of monoterpene compounds. This is the biggest difference between Darjeeling black tea and Assam black tea. Among the more than 600 aroma components identified in Darjeeling black tea, 2,6-dimethyl-3,7-octadiene-2,6-diol and 3,7-dimethyl-1 have also been confirmed. All of these are considered to create the "honey" aroma in the tea.

Final thoughts

Taiwan's tea industry keeps impressing us with its unique combination of natural preservation, technical innovation, and cooperation between the government and tea businesses. Who would have thought that a tea garden infested by pests would produce some of the finest and most interesting teas currently known? Moreover, who could have predicted that it would further boost the popularity of natural farming in Taiwan? Thanks to the small green leafhoppers, areas like Taitung have seen a resurgence of the tea farming industry, attracting a younger generation of farmers and introducing people around the world to a whole new class of teas.


Source: Taiwan Ministry of Agriculture

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