What is Oolong Tea?
The Most Artisanal Style of Tea.
Highly sought-after by tea connoisseurs, oolong teas offer wonderfully complex aromatic profiles that are best savored slowly over the course of multiple infusions brewed in a traditional vessel such as a porcelain Gaiwan. This style is often referred to as gōngfū chá or “kung-fu tea,” alluding to the mindful attentiveness needed to brew tea this way. This is one reason that Oolong teas are some of the most artisanal teas in the world.
Oolong Tea and Oxidation
Oolong teas are considered “semi-oxidized,” meaning that the extent of oxidation falls somewhere between green and black tea. This is achieved with a tremendous amount of skill and intense focus from the craftsman. The aim is to partially oxidize the leaf using special withering, tossing, bruising, rolling and shaping techniques. Certain oolong teas might also be roasted or baked to develop a nutty, caramelized sweetness. The degree of oxidation and roasting are two of the main characteristics that are evaluated with oolong teas.
The oolong process was developed during the 18th century within the fabled Wuyi Mountains of China’s southeastern Fujian province. Oolong Tea was originally called Qing Cha (bluegreen tea) and later was dubbed Oolong Cha (“black dragon tea,” also spelled Wulong Cha) by the 18th Century Qing Dynasty Emperor, Qianlong. Since then the world of oolong tea has expanded but the main production zones of oolong today consist of Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan
Taste of Place: Terroir & Oolong
Cultivar, or genetic strain of the tea plant, is a very important factor in oolong tea. The botanical species of tea, Camellia sinensis, has two primary subspecies: the “small-leaf” C. sinensis subsp. sinensis; and the “broad leaf” C. sinensis subsp. assamica. Within each of these subspecies are hundreds of unique strains that are referred to as cultivars. Much like wine, there is an intimate relationship between place and cultivars with Oolong tea. For example, true Champagne can only be made from select grape varietals in the Champagne region of France, so too must oolong teas be made from select tea cultivars in specific locations.
Notable Oolong Tea
As you begin to find your favorite types of Oolong tea, consider the cultivar, level of oxidation and place of origin. We’ve included a few of our favorites below for you to explore.
Our Iron Goddess of Mercy is hand-crafted twice each year, in spring and winter, by a fourth generation artisan oolong teamaker in Mingjian Village in Taiwan’s central Nantou county. Our Iron Goddess of Mercy is made from Wuyi and Qingxin oolong tea cultivars and is crafted in the traditional style, with medium oxidation and moderate roasting.
Ruby Oolong is a special type of oolong tea produced in the Doi Mae Salong mountainous region in northern Thailand. This full-bodied oolong tea is deeply oxidized and slowly baked to bring out complex layers of cacao, raisins, and black cherry with a sublime, elegant structure.
Earl Green is our oolong version of the black tea classic Earl Grey. This original blend highlights the alluring lilac fragrance of Bao Zhong oolong tea, which harmonizes gorgeously with citrusy and floral essence of bergamot.
More From Tea 101
Curious about why water temperature suggestions vary from tea to tea? Each type of tea has an ideal range of temperatures to be applied in brewing because the wrong water temperature can cause an over extraction or under extraction of polyphenols (tannins), which can alter the flavor of your tea.
All true tea is made with leaves harvested from a single plant species called Camellia Sinensis. The tea plant is an evergreen tree native to the part of Southeast Asia where China’s Yunnan Province meets India’s Nagaland region and the northern areas of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.
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