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What is Oolong tea?

What is oolong tea? Oolong or Wu-long means Black Dragon tea in Mandarin.

It has been said that it refers to the shape of oolong teas which resemble the silhouette of the mystical Chinese Dragon. They are mainly manufactured in China and Taiwan provinces. The latter is known as Formosa in tea terminology. Those teas are generally referred to as semi-fermented teas: they are partially oxidized between 20 and 80%. So, what is oolong tea? Oolong tea has a fresh and smoother taste than black tea and less grassy than green tea.  The leaves must not be picked too soon and the production process must begin immediately after plucking. Leaves are first wilted in sunlight and shaken in bamboo baskets to softly bruise the edge of the leaves. Then they are spread out to dry until the surface of the leaves turns lightly yellow. This fermentation last 1-2 hours and it is stopped by firing.

Chinese Oolong

Wulong teas have been highly revered in China for centuries. Fujian is the home of most of Chinese Oolong which grown in the Wuyi Shan region in north-western Fujian. It is an area of rocky limestone peaks, winding rivers and lush vegetation. The tea bushes are grown at high altitude and they are shaded by clouds and mist. The best known Chinese Oolong include Ti Kuan Yin and Da Hong Pao (Royal Red Robe). The last is known as a “rock-oolong tea” as it grows in the rocky crags of the Wuyi Shan area.

Da Hong Pao is formerly known as tribute tea as it is picked  from bushes around 360 years old from the Wuyi Sha region. This tea is oxidized 80% making it one of the darkest oolong teas of Fujian province. It is then charcoal-fired to give the tea a sweet aroma with a slight smoky flavour. Royal Red Robe refers to a sick Ming dynasty official who after drinking the tea recovered and in gratitude placed his cloak over the tea bushes.

Ti Kuan Yin is originated from Fujian province but it is also manufactured in Taiwan. It is translated as Iron Goddess of Mercy. The legend tell that “Guanyin” was an unmaintained temple of a goddess represented by an iron statue. A man was really desolate for the temple’s bad state and wanted to restore it. Once made, the Goddess give him a tea seed which would give him a lot of wealth. He planted the seed and the Ti Kuan Yin has grown. This tea has a floral aroma and a delicious buttery, nutty character and good body.

Chinese Monkey is a most celebrated tea and a most delectable oolong. Behind this curious name, there is an astonishing story. Many centuries ago, a Buddhist monk was picking tea leaves. His monkey saw his master picking leaves. Then, he climbed the tea tree and started plucking leaves too. The leaves collected by monkey brewed a unique flavour that those handpicked by monk himself. He was so impressed that he got his monkey to pick tea for him from the high mountains of Fujian province, unreachable by humans.  Soon the practice was adopted by others. In cup this tea gives a deep amber infusion wonderfully peachy, smooth and satisfying with a glorious floral aroma.

Formosa Oolong

Formosa Oolongs undergo a longer fermentation time, thus they are generally blacker than Chinese Oolongs. The best known Formosa oolongs include Pouchong, Dong Ding and Jade. They are harvested five time a year and the July and August crops generally receive the highest grades.

Dong Ding tea is grown in the high Formosa Tung Ting mountain of Nantou county. Its quality has been attributed to a continuous fog. It undergoes less fermentation than others Formosa oolongs. Leaves are roasted under charcoal during 40 minutes, that gives its special flavour with nutty and fruity elements.

Pouchong teas are lightly fermented between oolong and green tea. Once the leaves plucked, they dry in a paper wrapping and the term Pouchong refers to this manufacturing method. Those teas are usually not roasted and gives a delicious floral aroma.

Jade Oolong is a blue-green tea. The leaves are rolled into tight balls to yield a delicate golden infusion with floral aroma.

The following video explains how closed-leaf Formosa oolongs are made:

In oolong teas there is much variety within these fabulous Black Dragon teas. Whether a blacker or a greener style, you will find one to suit you.

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