Controlled oxidation gives Oolong tea its characteristic flavour. Leaves vary from green to dark brown depending on the extent of oxidation. Green Oolongs are light and fresh; darker ones are stronger and fuller-bodied. Oolong teas are very fragrant, often flowery and complex-tasting.
How Oolong tea is made
The processing of Oolong tea is complex. The crucial part consists in gently bruising the leaves to further the oxidation process. The leaves are then heated to arrest oxidation and dried. Sometimes, after drying, the leaves are also roasted to deepen the aroma and flavour.
The processing and taste of oolong teas (Wulong Tea) are located between green tea and black tea. Depending on the type and processing, they combine in different ways the fresh and subtle taste of green tea with the full and strong taste of black tea.
Oolong teas produce an incredible variety of flavours and aromas that no other tea category can offer. Oolong tea is also the only type of tea that produces its own top-quality teas at any time of the year.
Origin and types of Oolong tea
The Oolong tea originates in the province of Fujian (China). It is not possible to say exactly when and how this particular processing method was developed. It is assumed, however, that it was created as we know it today in the 17th century.
There are two main growing areas: North Fujian (Wuyi-Shan) and South Fujian (Anxi), which differ greatly in their characteristic aroma and taste. Oolong tea from Wuyishan is also known as Rock Tea and is characterized by a strong roasting aroma. Anxi is famous for his Tie Guan Yin (Tieguanyin), which is slightly oxidized and rarely roasted and therefore rather flowery and fresh in taste.
From Fujian, the oolong tea spread further to the south, in particular to the traditional cultivation areas near Fenghuang, Guangdong province: Fenghuang Dancong Oolong, or Phoenix Single Bush Oolong.
In the 18th century the cultivation of Oolong tea started also in Taiwan (Formosa Oolong tea). In Taiwan new teas were invented, like Oriental Beauty, the high mountain tea and the honey scent Oolongs, which today are the most iconic Taiwan Oolong teas.
Processing of Oolong Tea
The following process applies roughly to all oolong teas; whether north Fujian, south Fujian, Guangdong or Taiwan. This illustrates once again the incredible variety of this tea category, despite the same processing. Different than other tea categories, it is characteristic for the Oolong tea that only the mature, whole leaves are picked. High-quality, noble varieties as well as in the high mountain teas are harvested by hand still nowadays.
Chinese technical terms
- Picking (caizhai)
- Withering (weidiao)
- Resting and shaking (jingzhi and jiaoban)
- Shaking in drum (dalang)
- Piling up / oxidation (duiqing)
- Heating / killing the green (chaoqing)
- Rolling and squeezing (rounian)
- Shaping and drying (zuoxing and ganzao)
→ roughly finished tea (Maocha)
- Roasting (optional)
Steps 2-5 are the heart of the processing of oolong tea. Here the basis for oxidation is laid and the degree of oxidation is determined. With the heating (step 6) the basic character of the tea is fixed; mistakes cannot be corrected anymore. The rest of the processing is just shaping the leaves and refining.
The processing of the oolong teas is very complex. It can take up to 24 hours from picking to the roughly finished tea (Maocha). Even today, with modern roasting machines, it can take up to 2-3 days until the refined end product is available. In the past, roasting over charcoal took even longer.
Oolong Tea and Health
Slightly oxidized,"green" Oolong teas such as Tieguanyin and Zhang Ping Shui Xian are richer in antioxidants and stimulate the appetite. Darker oolongs, such as Da Hong Pao and Dong Ding, have on the contrary a warming effect on the body. They stimulate the metabolism and help digestion.
According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Oolong tea can help burn fat and lower cholesterol levels.
Most dark Oolong teas are roasted. As the leaves lose caffeine during the roasting process, these teas are suitable for those who are sensitive to caffeine or for the evening consumption.