Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Totem Tea Oriental Beauty Reserve

If pressed on what tea I drink most, I almost always say oolong. Usually a more oxidized one. I find them warming in the colder months, and refreshing as a cold-brew when the temperature rises. Today's review is for one of the more oxidized oolongs, Oriental Beauty Reserve from Totem Tea. It's a classic Taiwanese oolong also called bai hao, which translates to white down. This refers to the fuzzy white hairs on the buds.

Bai Hao oolong is a bug-bitten Taiwanese tea. I'm sure you've read about this type of tea before. Little green leafhopper bugs called Jacobiasca formosana munch on the leaves during the summer season, which causes a chemical reaction in the plants. When bitten, the plant releases the chemicals as a defense mechanism. The chemical defense is specifically made for the leaf-hopper critters, and it turns out this process also creates a delicious and aromatic leaf. The aroma and flavor is intensified during the oxidation process of the leaves. According to Totem's website, the tea leaves are oxidized to about 60%. The cultivar for this tea is Qing Xin Dapan.

For me, a good Bai Hao oolong is aromatic and fruity. This version from Totem tea definitely ticks off both boxes. The dry leaves have a muscatel-grape aroma going on, along with something earthy and fruity. Upon inspection there are quite a few of those fuzzy white buds.

The steeped tea s is a lovely amber/light coppery color, and smells juicy and sweet. The first taste reminds me of caramelized...grapes? I've never had caramelized grapes before, but this is what I imagine they would taste like! It's as if the grapes were stewed with honey. Fruity, sweet, a little hint of something sour. The flavor is deep with a full body. There is also a floral note, but as if I'm chewing on a flower petal, not actually steeped in flowers, if that makes sense. I can feel the softness of the petal. As I mentioned earlier, it's got a muscatel grape aroma that is similar to a darjeeling, but it's much darker.

I steeped this tea in a very small teapot, gongfu style. I like brewing oolongs like this in a gaiwan or small teapot, to truly get the essence of the leaves. You may need a few infusions before the leaves start to open up and tell their story. Since this tea can give quite a few steeps, I will often throw the leaves in a pitcher of cool water after my tea session, and put it in the fridge overnight. It makes a delicious iced tea, even when the leaves have been used a few times!

Thank you to Totem Tea for providing this sample for review. To learn more about the tea, you can visit their website here.


  1. Wonderful Oriental Beauty tea review! I bet the notes are quite persistent and from what you're describing as far as brewing method, you must have a pretty balanced cup.

    1. Thank you so much Sylvana! I hope all is well with you.