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Two Teas That Require Plant-Eating Insects!

Two very different teas- one grown in India, the other in Taiwan- are linked by association to a tiny plant-eating insect from the cicada family. The adult leafhopper is just 2-4 mm long, with a green body and translucent wings. Avoiding sunlight, this bug is found on the undersides of tea leaves. Leafhoppers usually spring away when pursued too closely (by a camera lens, for example) and fly off to the next bush.

Darjeeling Second Flush 
After first flush teas have been processed and the banjhi (or short dormancy) period gives way to new growth in May, Darjeeling estates work hard to produce as much second flush tea as possible. This second flush is many producers' bread and butter; with hope, the weather cooperates and the monsoon rains hold off until well into June.

This is the time that the leafhoppers or "tea leaf mosquitoes," as they're called here, spread through the fields and interact with individual plants: The baby nymph and the adult hoppers bite the tea plants with a sharp, needle-shaped mouth, sucking sap from the leaf. As the plant reacts to this attack, the chemical composition of the leaf changes, which starts the withering process.

The leaf starts to turn brown (see photo at left). The muscatel flavor hyped in Darjeeling tea marketing is also produced by this interaction.

The tea depicted in the photo is from the Puttabong Estate, also known as Tukvar. Established in 1852, this was the first tea estate in Darjeeling. The saddle-brown leaves give off a pleasing aroma of fruit and wintergreen when infused. The flavor is rich and balanced with fruit notes that linger in the finish. We attribute this complexity of flavors to the leaf hopper synergy!

Oriental Beauty or Taiwan Beauty
Also known as Bai Hao oolong, Eastern Beauty or Dong Fang Mei Ren, this is another tea that benefits from a relationship with the tiny leafhopper. The insects are abundant in the heat and humidity of Taiwan summers, chewing on the edges of the leaves still on the bushes, causing an oxidization that reduces astringency. The resulting flavor has a sweet, honey characteristic that is highly desirable. 

The hopper is the tiny green fleck on the darker leaf in the back of the photo.
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