Insect Poop Tea

You might have heard of Kopi Luwak or Cat Poop Coffee, an Indonesian coffee made from beans digested and excreted by civet cats.research blogging icon
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:

diagram of how to make insect tea

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.

poo pellets for teaInsect feces tea is priced with a huge range–I’ve seen between $250 and $1000/lb, so it is quite the delicacy.  If someone offers you a cup of this tea, it is a high compliment indeed! Drink it!

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.”

10 thoughts on “Insect Poop Tea

  1. It never ceases to amaze and amuse me just how often poop comes up in biology. I am still not mature enough to avoid laughing at it. Thanks for adding to the culinary bucket list!

  2. I really wish there was a simple explanation of the fairly amazing way insects package feces in a sort of sausage casing of chitin.
    I really didn’t want to have to reference peritrophic membranes in a general post about poop tea. Maybe someone else will step up and write an explainer for me? Everything I found was super technical.

  3. Hi there Bug Girl!

    Awesome post here, and it’s so cool to see someone in the world of entomology writing about Insect Feces Tea! I found some of this stuff here in Taiwan as well, and wrote about the experience over at:

    http://tearroir.com/premium-loose-leaf-teas/the-most-expensive-tea-in-the-world-bug-shit-tea

    What strikes me most about the tea is that it doesn’t taste, in the least, like poo. I usually notice notes of granite and river rocks when I taste it, though the stuff I’ve had is aged for 20 years. I do notice some “gamey” notes in the tea, though it has never tasted like poo at all to me. Some Taiwanese farmers have mentioned to me that the really fresh stuff, the kind that isn’t ages for 20+ years tends to taste more like poo, though I have never tried any of the fresh stuff myself haha. Made the same parallel to Kopi Luwak myself, and really pleased to be able to connect with a new community of folks interested in this peculiar tea :)

    Warm regards from Taipei,
    Austin

  4. Hi Austin! Glad to know it meets with your approval! I love consuming tea, but admit I am very much a newbie.

    I would love to take one of your tasting classes.
    Someday I really must make it to Asia. So much to see and do (and eat!) there!

  5. Hey there Bug Girl,

    Thanks for your quick reply :)

    If you ever make it out to Taiwan, I do hope that you’ll look us up. We’d love to taste through some teas with you, take you through some of the more scenic tea houses here, and learn all about the world of bugs from you! I have to say I’ve always weirdly been obsessed with bugs ever since I kept bees in high school. Had a hive of Italian bees my first year that collapsed, according to the NC State lab due to varroa mites, and a hive of Russian bees that succumbed to CCD right before I left for college. :( Although neither of my hives survived longer than a year, it is still my dream to get another hive, stick it on my roof or in my back yard, and get back to the peace and tranquility that accompany going into a hive.

    It was a real treat to find your post earlier.

    Genuinely hope you’ll look us up if you’re ever in our neck of the woods.

    Austin

  6. Ok don’t hold back – I think the world is ready to learn the term ‘frass’. On Bug Guide they use it as a verb: ‘I just frassed my photos’. And as a negative: ‘I just unfrassed my photos out of the trash’.

    But if you liked frass tea, you’ll love Argana oil. Argana is an olive-like tree endemic to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The fruit has an oil-rich stone, but it stays on the tree and is a nightmare to pick. The answer? Let the goats pick the fruit and eat it. Then collect the only partially-digested stones from the goat droppings. Then press the oil out. Available from all good souks.

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