Oolong tea Rolled oolong tea leaves Traditional Chinese 烏龍茶 Simplified Chinese 乌龙茶 Cantonese Jyutping wu1 long2 caa4 Hanyu Pinyin wūlóng chá Literal meaning black dragon tea Transcriptions Mandarin - Hanyu Pinyin wūlóng chá Min - Hokkien POJ O·-liông tê Cantonese (Yue) - Jyutping wu1 long2 caa4
Oolong (simplified Chinese: 乌龙; traditional Chinese: 烏龍; pinyin: wūlóng) is a traditional Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a unique process including withering under the strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. Most oolong teas, especially those of fine quality, involve unique tea plant cultivars that are exclusively used for particular varieties. The degree of fermentation can range from 8% to 85%, depending on the variety and production style. This tea category is especially popular with tea connoisseurs of south China and Chinese expatriates in Southeast Asia, as is the tea preparation process that originated from this area: gongfu tea-making, or the gongfu tea infusion approach.
In Chinese tea culture, semi-oxidised oolong teas are collectively grouped as qīngchá (Chinese: 青茶; literally "blue-green tea"). The taste of oolong ranges hugely amongst various subvarieties. It can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, or woody and thick with roasted aromas, or green and fresh with bouquet aromas, all depending on the horticulture and style of production. Several subvarieties of oolong, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian and in the central mountains of Taiwan, are among the most famous Chinese teas.
Different varieties of oolong are processed differently, but the leaves are formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves, while others are 'wrap-curled' into small beads, each with a tail. The former style is the more traditional of the two.
There are three widely accepted explanations of the origin of the Chinese name. According to the "tribute tea" theory, oolong tea came directly from Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake tribute tea. The term oolong tea replaced the old term when loose tea came into fashion. Since it was dark, long and curly, it was called Black Dragon tea.
According to the "Wuyi" theory, oolong tea first existed in the Wuyi Mountain area. This is evidenced by Qing dynasty poems such as Wuyi Tea Song (Wuyi Chage) and Tea Tale (Chashuo). It was said that oolong tea was named after the part of Wuyi mountain where it was originally produced.
According to the "Anxi" theory, oolong tea had its origin in the Anxi oolong tea plant, which was discovered by a man named Sulong, Wulong or Wuliang.
Another tale tells of a man named Wu Liang (later corrupted to Wu Long, or Oolong) who discovered oolong tea by accident when he was distracted by a deer after a hard day's tea-picking, and by the time he remembered to return to the tea it had already started to oxidize.
Varieties of Oolong Tea
Wuyi rock (cliff) tea (武夷岩茶 Wǔyí yán chá) from Fujian province
The most famous and expensive oolong teas are made here, and the production is still usually accredited as being organic. Much Shuǐ Xiān is grown elsewhere in Fujian. Some of the better known cliff teas are:
- Red Robe Dà Hóng Páo (大红袍)
- in Chinese, a highly prized tea and a Sì Dà Míng Cōng (四大名樅, literally: The Four Great Bushes). This tea is also one of the two oolongs that make it to the list of Chinese famous teas.
- Gold Turtle Shuǐ Jīn Guī (水金亀)
- in Chinese, a Si Da Ming Cong.
- Iron Monk Arhat Tiě Luóhàn (鉄羅漢)
- in Chinese, a Si Da Ming Cong tea
- White Comb Bái Jī Guān (白鸡冠)
- in Chinese, a Si Da Ming Cong tea. A light tea with light, yellowish leaves.
- Cassia Ròu Guì (肉桂)
- in Chinese, a dark tea with a spicy aroma.
- Narcissus Shuǐ Xiān (水仙)
- in Chinese, a very dark tea, often grown elsewhere.
- Iron Goddess Guanyin Tiě Guānyīn or Ti Kuan Yin (鐵觀音)
- in Chinese, this is a tea from Anxi in South Fujian. It is very famous as a 'Chinese famous tea' and very popular.
- or Golden Osmanthus is another tea from the Anxi area of Fujian Province. It resembles Tiě Guānyīn with a very fragrant flavor.
Ti Kuan Yin, which in Chinese means “Iron Goddess.” There was once a poor farmer who was devout and dedicated to maintaining the temple of Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. One day, to reward him for his loyalty and commitment to her, she told him that the key to his future was outside the temple. Outside he found a scrungy old bush, which he nursed to a flourishing bloom of greenish leaves. These leaves, of course, are the same as those in my teapot cup.
- Single Bush Dān Cōng (单枞)
- A family of stripe-style oolong teas from Guangdong Province. The doppelganger of teas, Dancong teas are noted for their ability to naturally imitate the flavors and fragrances of various flowers and fruits, such as orange blossom, orchid, grapefruit, almond, ginger flower, etc.
The name dan cong is often misinterpreted as meaning the tea is all picked from a single bush, grove, or clone. This is not correct. Dan cong is a botanical term that refers to the morphology of the tea plant. Most tea bushes emerge from the ground as a cluster of branches, however, the uncommon dan cong variety emerges as a single trunk that branches off higher up the stem.
Tea cultivation only began in Taiwan in the mid-19th century. Since then, many of the teas which are grown in Fujian province have also been grown in Taiwan. Since the 1970s, the tea industry in Taiwan has expanded at a rapid rate, in line with the rest of Taiwan's economy. Due to high domestic demand and a strong tea culture, most Taiwanese tea is bought and consumed by the Taiwanese.
As the weather in Taiwan is highly variable, tea quality may differ from season to season. Although the island is not particularly large, it is geographically varied, with high, steep mountains rising abruptly from low-lying coastal plains. The different weather patterns, temperatures, altitudes and soil ultimately result in differences in appearance, aroma and flavour of the tea grown in Taiwan. In some mountainous areas, teas have been cultivated at ever higher elevations to produce a unique sweet taste that fetches a premium price.
- Dong Ding oolong, Dòngdǐng (凍頂)
- The name means Frozen Summit or Ice Peak. Dong Ding is a mountain in Nantou County, Central Taiwan. This is a tightly rolled tea with a light, distinctive fragrance.
- Oriental Beauty, Dōngfāng Měirén chá (東方美人茶)
- The name means Oriental Beauty. Also known as White Tip Oolong Bai Hao Oolong. This tea is tippy (the leaves frequently have white or golden tips), with natural fruity aromas, a bright red appearance and a sweet taste.
- Alishan oolong, Ālǐshān chá (阿里山茶)
- Grown in the Alishan area of Chiayi County, this tea has large rolled leaves that have a purple-green appearance when dry. It is grown at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,400 metres. There is only a short period during the growing season when the sun is strong, which results in a sweeter and less astringent brew. It produces a golden yellow tea which has a unique fruity aroma.
- Lishan oolong, Líshān (梨山)
- Grown in the north-central region of Taiwan, this tea is very similar in appearance to Alishan teas, and is often considered to be one of the best teas from Taiwan. It is grown at an elevation above 1,000 metres, with Dayuling, Lishan, and Fusou being the best known regions and teas of Lishan.
- Pouchong, (Bāozhǒng chá) (包種茶)
- Also romanized as Bāozhǒng, the lightest and most floral oolong, with unrolled leaves of a light green to brown color. Originally grown in Fujian it is now widely cultivated and produced in Pinglin Township near Taipei, Taiwan.
Other oolong teas
- Darjeeling oolong: Darjeeling tea made according to Chinese methods.
- Vietnam tea (oolong: Vietnamese oolong
- Thai oolong
- Indonesian Oolong Tea: made in Lebak-Banten, Indonesia
- African oolong: made in Malawi and in Kenya
- Nepali oolong
Generally, 3 grams of tea per 200 ml of water, or about two teaspoons of oolong tea per cup, should be used. Oolong teas should be prepared with 200 to 205 °F (93 to 96 °C) water (not boiling) and steeped 3–10 minutes. High quality oolong can be brewed several times from the same leaves and, unlike other teas, it improves with rebrewing: it is common to brew the same leaves three to five times, the third or fourth steeping usually being considered the best.
A widely-used ceremonial method of brewing oolongs in Taiwan and China is called gongfucha. This method uses a small brewing vessel, such as a gaiwan or Yixing clay teapot, with more tea than usual for the amount of water used. Multiple short steeps of 20 seconds to 1 minute are performed; the tea is often served in one- to two-ounce tasting cups.
Though the caffeine content in a given brew of tea may vary based on the brewing method, variety of tea, and number of extractions, Oolong tea in general contains caffeine, albeit less than either black tea or green tea.
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