THIS IS NOT MEANT TO COVER EVERY OOLONG OUT THERE.
IF I’VE MISSED ONE, PLEASE NOTE IT IN A COMMENT.
Time to continue our look at oolongs – a style of tea with possibly the widest variety out there. We covered Wuyi Rock, Anxi, and Dancong oolongs Oolong teas from Taiwan are often acknowledged as some of the best in the world. What makes them so special? A closer look is good here.
The island nation of Taiwan off the coast of China is almost one big tea farm. Just kidding. But it is very mountainous and seems to be just perfect overall for growing teas, most of which are processed as oolongs, despite the variable seasons. The general guide is that the higher the elevation where the tea leaves are grown there, the sweeter the tea liquid. They also constantly work to develop new cultivars and perfect processing techniques. Tea has been grown there since the 18th century but has seen the most rapid expansion in the past 60 years or so. Most is bought and consumed locally.
The high variability of Taiwanese weather results in a lot of quality variability, too, from one season to the next. Altitudes and soil types are additional factors affecting the teas’ aroma, flavor, and even appearance.
Since elevation is so important, oolongs from Taiwan are often classified that way. The push to cultivate teas at higher elevations is driven by the belief that these teas are sweeter in flavor and command a higher price.
One chart seen online splits them up this way (not too precise but lets you know generally what is what):
- 800 meters or fewer above sea level – low altitude oolongs
- 1000 to 1500 meters above sea level – Ali Shan oolongs
- 1600 meters above sea level – Ali Shan Lu Zhu / Shan Lin Xi oolongs
- 2000 meters above sea level – Li Shan oolongs
- 2500 meters or more above sea level – Da Yu Ling oolongs
Others classify these oolongs also by the part of the island they grow on:
- North Tea Area – the northern end of the island
- Yilan Tea Area – Yilan County on eastern side of island just below North Tea Area
- Central Tea Area – in the heart of the island and mainly Nantou County
- Huadong Tea Area – on the eastern side of the island in Hualien County just south of Yilan County
- South Tea Area – on the southern end of the island
Some of the teas by county (not all oolongs):
- Taipei County – Wenshan Paochong, Shimang, Hshien Long-Chin, Hsihen Paochong, Longsho
- Taoyuan County – Longchung, Lufong Oolong, Shoshen, Wuling, Maitai, Shiotsai, Ginghu, Mucha Tien-Kuan-Yin, Nankung Paochong
- Hsinchu County – Linfu, Chungan, Oriental Beauty (Pom-fong)
- Miaoli County – Miaoli Ooling, Miaoli Pom-fong
- Ilan County – (collectively known as Lanyung Famous Tea) Shushin, Wufong, Yuilang, Sungchung
- Nantou County – Tongding, Songbou Chungching (Puchong), Chingshen, Chushen Oolong, Chushen Ginshang, Shunlingshi Oolong, Rcheng, Wushur Lushen Oolong, Sun Moon Black Tea
- Yunlin County – Yunding
- Hualien County – Tenhwo, Hwokun Black Tea
- Chia-I County – Maishen Oolong, Longchu, Sanyei, Alishen Chulu, Chuchi High Mountain, Alishen Oolong
- Kaohsiung County – Lugwei
- Taitung County – Fulu, Taifung High Mountain
- Pingtung County – Kungko
Some Taiwan Oolongs
We can’t hope to cover all Taiwanese oolongs here but want to address a few fairly well-known ones:
- Dong Ding (Tung Ting, “Frozen Summit,” 冻顶, 凍頂) – Nantou County. Generally medium-oxidized oolong that is light- to medium-roasted, with the latter becoming more popular in part due to better storage. It is lightly floral with a touch of fruit character, but robust, full-bodied flavor, and long-lasting. Carefully hand-processed with deep green leaves and a pale-green color in the liquid.
- Bao Zhong (Pouchong) Selected Premium Oolong Tea (包种茶, 包種茶) – An ultra lightly oxidized oolong (10-20%) that some classify as a green tea. The flavors, though, are more complex and subtle, with a sweet and calming around and a bright yellow-jade liquid. The leaves with have a bit of red around the edges after infusing.
- Formosa Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea Select Premium Grade (Bai Hao Oolong, Dong Fang Mei Ren Cha, 东方美人茶, 東方美人茶) – A famous oolong, in part due to the name, said to have come from Queen Elizabeth II after tasting it for the first time. The dry leaves have a multi-colored appearance, ranging from fluffy and white-tipped leaves to red, yellow, green and brown tipped leaves. After infusing, the liquid is a shimmering amber with a rich, honey aroma and smooth and ripe-fruity flavors that enrich the taste.
- Ginseng Oolong (Ren Shen Wu Long, 人参乌龙, 人參烏龍) – Adding ginseng to tea has been a long-standing tradition. The tea base is usually a high quality oolong tea and makes a liquid that is supposed to nourish the body and replenish energy. The best versions don’t let the flavor of the ginseng overwhelm the flavor of the fine oolong tea.
- Muzha Tie Guan Yin Classic Roasted Taiwanese Iron Goddess Oolong – The tea bushes for this tea originally cam from Anxi, China, and were brought to Taiwan in the early 20th century by Master Chang. They were planted in Taipei area which had the most suitable environment. The cultivar is unique to this tea, and the leaves undergo a special process, with skillful repeated roasting following the final drying step. When done properly, this results in a special acid-fruit taste called “Iron Taste.” Glossy dark-brown color on the leaves. Rich, pure fruity fragrance with some roasted charcoal aroma. Clear, pure, reddish and deep orange-yellow color. Rich and smooth acid-fruity taste, no bitterness or astringent taste. Very mellow and lingering finish!
- Shan Ling Xi – Tight leaf nuggets in a dark green color infuse a pale yellow liquid. Just be sure to steep them loose, not in an infuser, so they can open up all the way. The liquid has a light aroma and sugary quality. This oolong tea is from Shan Ling Xi in Nantou county of central Taiwan located at about 1600 meters above sea level, an elevation that provides ideal growing conditions due to air that remains cool year round. Tea has been grown here since the 1970’s and is known as one of the premier tea producing regions of Taiwan.
- Da Yu Ling Oolong (台湾大禹岭乌龙茶, 臺灣大禹嶺烏龍茶) – From the Da Yu Ling area of Taichung county. Premium-grade grown at one of the highest tea plantations in the world (2600+ meters above sea level). Da Yu Ling on Mount Li (Li Shan or Pear Mountain) is at an elevation that slows the tea leaf growth rate so they develop that signature smooth, rich flavor. The leaves are lightly oxidized and have a reputation for its wonderful fragrance and taste. The tea is produced in limited quantities, making it one of the most prized teas of Taiwan. In dry form the leaves are condensed down into little nuggets about the size of a pea with a sweet and somewhat floral aroma. The liquid has a very light color but a wonderful vegetal/floral aroma. The mouthfeel is buttery and the flavor smooth with no bitterness and slightly sweet floral characteristics.
- Wu Ling – From the Wu Ling mountain area in Taichung county, Taiwan. The elevation where the tea is grown is about 2,000 meters (about 6,100 feet) and has ideal conditions for this type of tea. This includes being grown in soil where fruit trees (apples and pears) were grown — supposedly the reason for this tea having a fruity quality. The flavor starts out very light, grassy with a hint of fruitiness and a touch of spinach quality and a thin watery mouthfeel. The fruity flavors are evident throughout each infusion and tend to linger.
Don’t worry. We aren’t done yet. Oolongs are being made in more and more tea-growing countries. We just wanted to started with the two major ones: China and Taiwan. Next up will be nearby countries and even a couple further away.
[Again, thanks to a good friend for the use of the photos.]