Text and Photography by Bruce Richardson
The road from Taipei rises ever higher into the mountains of Taiwan’s Hsinchu County as it wanders through forest-covered hills and beside deep valleys dotted with occasional homes and farms clinging to the mountainside. I came to Taiwan on a mission. I was in search of the source of one of the world’s most mysterious teas—a bug-bitten oolong indigenous to these mountains and known to tea connoisseurs as Oriental Beauty.
May was about to become June, and rising temperatures were nudging tiny leafhoppers to begin their annual feasting on succulent, young tea plants. Nocturnal by nature, these cricket-like insects swiftly leap, fly, nibble, and hide throughout the tea garden. In most instances, farmers would act to rid their gardens of these pests, but for tea farmers of northwest Taiwan, these invaders are a welcome sight because their arrival marks the beginning of the season for making Bai Hao oolong.