You might have heard of Kopi Luwak or Cat Poop Coffee, an Indonesian coffee made from beans digested and excreted by civet cats.
I love coffee. I mean, I LOVE COFFEE. I would inject it if I could. But…no. No to civet cat poop, for a wide variety of reasons.
But insect poop tea? Well, actually, that sounds pretty interesting.
I noticed this new publication this week:
Xu L., Pan H., Lei Q., Xiao W., Peng Y. & Xiao P. (2013). Insect tea, a wonderful work in the Chinese tea culture, Food Research International, DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2013.01.005
Pu-Erh (pronounced ‘poo-air’) is a type of tea that is fermented before drinking. Like wines, these teas grow more valuable with age, and have a rich taste. Poo Poo Pu-Erh (really, not making that up) is a special type of tea from the Yunnan region of China made of droppings from insects eating tea leaves.
蟲屎茶 Translation: Insect Feces Tea
Several different species of insects and plants are used to form a wide array of possible tea tastes. The most commonly used insect seems to be a moth with the charming name of the Tea Tabby. You can see a diagram of the tea making process at right, reproduced from the paper. Basically, you put out a rack of tea leaves, add caterpillars, and then use a sieve (or hand pick!) out the feces.
(As a side note, this is an Elsevier journal, and they have pay-walled this paper so you have to pay $35 to see it. I would have expected at least SOME helpful editing for a paper whose authors’ first language is clearly not English. The species name is even misspelled.)
Note that in this photo and others, the poo looks like pellets. That’s a unique characteristic of caterpillar digestive systems–they wrap their their poo inside a little chitin layer, sort of like a spring roll.
People pay that price for a tea made out of insect poo because it is supposed to have a wide range of healthful properties. The paper I linked to above did an analysis of what chemicals are in the tea, and it certainly contains lots of antioxidants and a wide array of amino acids. Does it actually make you any healthier? Probably not any more than any other tea, really. But it’s pretty damn interesting.
I have written several times before about how we have all sorts of insects in our regular food supply, but just pretend not to know. There’s nearly always a detectable amount of insect parts in your coffee or chocolate, for example.
Most of the rest of the world (i.e, outside North America and Europe) eats insects on a semi-regular basis. Why do we get squicked so easily by the concept of insects as food, or insect products in our food?
So–would YOU drink it? I would!
I talked to a couple of friends who have tried it, and they say it has a sort of medicinal-chai type of taste.
Also, as a side note: I also learned about another tea with an insect connection, although less direct:
“Dongfang meiren is grown without pesticides to encourage a common pest, the tea green leafhopper (Jacobiasca formosana), to feed on the leaves, stems, and buds. These insects suck the phloem juices of the tea stems, leaves, and buds, producing monoterpene diol and hotrienol which give the tea its unique flavor.
The buds then turn white along the edges which gives the tea its alternate name, white tip oolong. The insect bites start the oxidation of the leaves and tips and add a sweet note to the tea.”