Oolong tea (pronounced either oo as in zoo or wu rhyming with a long u) falls in between black and green tea in terms of processing, taste, and other characteristics, giving them some of the complexity of black teas combined with the natural freshness of the greens. Oolong production began in China at the end of the Ming Dynasty in the Wuyi Mountains and then spread south to the Guangdong province and then to Taiwan, which was still part of the Fujian province, in the early 1800’s. Its production in Taiwan became an art form with the Chinese credited for teaching the original production style to the Taiwanese tea masters. Today, China still produces wonderful oolong teas, however the best oolongs come from Taiwan (often called Formosa, its old Dutch name).
Minimal processing, especially during the oxidation phase, differentiates oolongs from black teas. The best oolongs are still produced by the “orthodox method” requiring intensive labor and hand production. Leaves are harvested from spring through summer at their peak and once harvested are sorted and wilted in the sun. The leaves are then shaken in bamboo baskets bruising the edges and exposing the leaf’s enzymes to oxygen. After partial oxidation, between 15% and 75%, the leaves are pan fired and then rolled, twisted lengthwise or left naturally curved. Chinese oolongs generally undergo less oxidation than Taiwanese, but sometimes have several firings.
The length of oxidation is responsible for the diversity and complexity of oolongs with their wide range of flavor and caffeine content. Oolongs that are oxidized longer are considered “dark oolongs” while those with less oxidation are “green oolongs.” Dark oolongs are dark in color, produce a deep amber color in the cup and have a more intense flavor and a subtle fruity character. Green oolongs are highly aromatic with a refreshing, sweet floral character and are a yellowish green color. When oxidation is below 15%, they are known as pouchong teas which are almost green in appearance and produce a light yellow hue, a mild aroma and a delicate flavor. All seem to demand solo drinking and taste best when prepared with water that is cooler than boiling and steeped for three to five minutes. A quality oolong should allow numerous infusions, between 3 and 6. Oolongs are delicious in many foods also. Try them to flavor liquids used for cooking rice or grains or as a base for chicken noodle soup - they add a punch without calories, sodium or sugar!
These teas have been consumed in China, Taiwan and Japan for centuries for their cleansing and digestive benefits, but have become of interest recently for their ability to flush fats and carbohydrates from the body and increase resting metabolism, aiding in weight loss.
TEA TIME TRIVIA
Oolong is the tea commonly served in Chinese Restaurants
Oolong is the tea of choice for Chinese Yixing pots and
is said to bring luck the more often it is infused
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”