Commonly called jassips or thrips, these tiny predators chew small holes in the leaves, which initiates premature oxidation as the leaf manufactures an enzyme to fend off its attacker. A small amount of damage is good, but a greater amount of mutilation can cause the leaf to wilt and drop off. This tea can only be picked by workers with keen eyes who can discern leaves scarred with just the right percentage of blemishes.
Tea growers once thought tea leaves damaged like this were worthless. But legend has it that a tea farmer in this district decided to process the leaves into tea rather than destroying his harvest. He showed his finished tea to a local tea merchant who liked it well enough to pay him twice the price of his usual tea. When the farmer returned to his village, he boasted to his neighbors about his success. His neighbors believed he was exaggerating and so named his tea, Peng Feng Cha or Braggart’s Tea.
With my guide, local tea maker Norman Shu, I arrived at a hilltop garden where we watched pickers meticulously pluck leaves to fill their small baskets. (Workers can only harvest a few kilograms of leaf each day.) The fresh leaves were taken immediately to a nearby factory, where the master tea maker spread them on the factory floor to wither for several hours. Later, they were repeatedly tossed, panned, rolled, and dried to an oxidation percentage of about 65 percent. The finished tea, filled with fine, dark-red twisty leaves dotted with fluffy silver buds, is a work of art.