Oolong teas are actually some of the youngest types of tea. It is believed that the Chinese started to really understand and control oxidation of tea in the 17th century, leading to the first oolong teas. Given that the first teas in China where documented over 3,000 years earlier, a few hundred years old is still young. Highly regarded Taiwanese oolongs only began to make an appearance during the 1960’s, when the Taiwanese realized they were losing market share to Chinese and Japanese teas. Taiwan needed to do something different to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. Prior to the 1960’s, Taiwan was producing mainly green teas for consumption by the Japanese.
What’s in a Name? Origin of the Oolong Name
The name oolong literally means black dragon, which refers to the shape of the hand rolled oolong tea leaves. There are other theories that the name originates from the Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian Province of China where it is believed that the first oolong teas where made. There is an alternative theory that it is named after the man who made the first oolongs, Wu Liang, and was later corrupted to Wu Long before being anglicized into oolong. No matter where the name came from, this type of tea is worth exploring for every tea drinker.
As discussed on an earlier post which covered the broader types of teas, oolongs are partially oxidized teas. They can appear both black and green given their level of oxidation. Due to the wide range of oxidation, the range of flavors is truly wide and complex. Some oolongs are now flavored or rolled with ginseng and licorice powder to form small pellets. Taiwan is continuing to innovate in oolong production by taking the finished product and baking it again to enhance the flavor and aroma. From teas with a delicate taste of flowers to spicy finishing notes, oolongs provide a nice variety for everyone to enjoy and is a type of tea production that occurs in many countries. Also, with cold brewing, the complex flavors produced in this manufacturing process can be enjoyed cold.
Oolong Styles and Brewing
Oolong teas usually take on two shapes. The first is the tightly rolled balls, or balled style, with a stem tail. While the second is a long curly leaf shape, or open leaf style, which can look like the dragons in Chinese mythology. To get these shapes, oolong is typically harvested from older leaves on the tea plant, so don’t expect two leaves and bud. It is more common to find four leaves and a bud or what is sometimes five older leaves.
Given the oxidation level of the oolong, it can be brewed with water ranging from 185-205 degrees Fahrenheit and for anywhere between 3-5 minutes. Like any good tea, oolong deserves fresh water in the kettle to allow the oxygen in the water to carry out the complex flavors of this tea. Also, this tea should be steeped multiple times to enjoy the wide array of flavors with each steeping. So drink this tea when you have time to stop and enjoy the flavors being presented to you.
I like to think there is an oolong tea for everyone, whether you prefer subtle green or forward blacks. So when you are looking for something new, oolongs are the best place to look and they rarely disappoint. It’s unfair to pick a favorite oolong because there are so many to enjoy. Is there one that you are curious about?