An infographic is a great visual for conveying complex information quickly so we thought we would provide one about the very complex world of oolongs. We simplified things quite a bit but check out the oolong tea infographic below for more details. We offer our profuse thanks to all the oolong experts out there who help folks like us learn and spread the word to you.
What Is Oolong Tea?
Oolongs are somewhere in-between green teas and black teas. The taste and flavor profile vary depending on how much oxidation of the tea leaves (ranges from 8% to 70%) has been allowed to occur as well as the amount of roasting.
Processing tea leaves to produce oolong style tea takes time, patience, and lots of skill. The leaves are withered a day or so, then shaken to break the edges a bit and begin the oxidation process. When they have reached the proper level of oxidation, the leaves are heated and shaped (usually by rolling) into various shapes. The heating, also called roasting, darkens the leaves more the longer the roasting is done.
Oolong flavor profiles include sweet, fruity, woody, roasty, milky, floral, and even greenish.
Where Do Oolong Teas Originate?
Oolong lovers will get into very serious arguments about where the best oolongs come from. And it seems that oolongs are being produced in more and more places.
Some key locations:
- Fujian province, China
- Guangdong province, China
- The nation of Taiwan
- West Bengal state, India
- Assam state, India
- New Zealand
The cultivars are grown mainly in Taiwan (formerly Formosa), the Fujian Province of China, and the Guangdong Province of China. However, some cultivars considered acceptable for oolongs are being grown in other provinces of China and other places. In fact, there are oolong examples grown in India.
Some Popular Cultivars
Taiwan boasts a wide array of cultivars (some folks claim that they number in the thousands). Some have proven more popular with the tea farmers due to faster growing rates, more compact bushes that produce more usable leaves and can be machine harvested, and more disease resistance. However, even the cultivars with weaker growth and less disease resistance are grown due to the reputation of the tea they produce.
|Cultivar||Key facts:||Some Other Names / Varieties|
(“TTES” means “Taiwan Tea Experiment Station” and is used by tea researchers to designate their successes.)
Oxidizing and Roasting Oolongs
Getting from the bush to your teacup is quite an Oolong journey. Oxidation and other processing result in a tea that’s somewhere between green and black in the spectrum of teas. It’s the key to achieving that distinctive Oolong flavor — actually, a variety of flavors.
The oxidation step is done after the leaves are withered and are therefore soft and pliable. They are rolled to create breakage and start the oxidation process. This will turn the leaves a bit darker, but not very much.
Roasting is done in a wok or large oven when the leaves have achieved the right amount of oxidation. In more complex oolongs, the oxidation and roasting are done several times back and forth – first oxidation, then roasting, then back to oxidation, then more roasting, etc. Some oolongs are re-roasted after they have been in storage awhile to dry them out. Darker roasts are becoming more popular, especially where people are switching from drinking coffee to drinking tea. They have less subtlety in their flavors but appeal to those enjoying a more roasty quality.
Possible Health Benefits
A number of people have made quite a living out of claiming that oolong tea is a miracle cure. The main claims are:
- May aid weight management (highly disputed) by increasing metabolism and reducing body fat
- Helps alleviate skin conditions
- Helps lower cholesterol [assuming they mean the bad kind here, but not specified]
- Can help diabetics keep blood sugar levels under control
As always, we advise that you consult your doctor before using for any medical condition.
Range of Oolong Teas
Oolongs of Fujian Province in China
These teas are traditionally oxidized more and roasted longer at higher temperatures than Taiwan oolongs. They produce a rich, full-bodied tea “liquor” with little astringency. Each has its own flavor, with the best often described as rich, mellow, and having a floral aroma, particularly orchids, and a fruity aftertaste akin to ripe peaches.
Some mainland oolongs:
- Rougui (Chinese Cassia) – has a definite cinnamon-like quality
- Shuixian (Water Sprite)
- Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) probably the rarest (made with leaves from just one ancient tea tree, very little is produced each year)
- Xiao Hong Pao (Small Red Robe)
Tie Guan Yin Oolongs of China
Originating in the Anxi County in Fujian, these teas produce a mellow, smooth flavor and golden liquid. Great for anyone trying to break away from drinking coffee. The well-known flavor characteristics are a result of the leaves being rolled into a ball shape during processing, after which they are roasted at medium-high temperatures.
Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Select) Oolongs of China
From the Guangdong Province, this tea is made of leaves harvested from single trunk trees grown on Phoenix Mountain. Workers use ladders or climb the trees to reach the leaves. The processed leaves are twisted and brownish in color and can be infused several times, producing an aromatic, amber tea “liquor.” Flavors range from almost woody to slightly bitter or astringent on the first infusion.
Signature Oolongs of Taiwan
Some popular oolong-style teas from Taiwan:
- Jinhsuen — a wide type of leaf used in High Mountain tea
- Szjichuan — used for many Jade Oolongs
- Wenshan Baozhong — with a light infusion, floral aroma, and gentle aftertaste
- Tie Guan Yin — sometimes scented with osmanthus flowers; rich and flavorful with an aftertaste that sweetly lingers
- Oriental Beauty (unique to Taiwan) — a medium-bodied tea “liquor,” floral aroma, a rich aftertaste of honey and peaches, with the best grades not being baked
- Tung ting (Frozen Peak) — medium-bodied, smooth, a lingering aftertaste that’s mildly sweet
The information above will give you a place to start exploring the wonders of Oolong teas. Whether you want to switch from coffee to tea drinking, are seeking the health benefits of these wonderful teas, or just want a new tea experience, you can’t go wrong with any of the Oolong tea types discussed here.