Oolong Teas – 乌龙茶 [wūlóng chá] – semi-oxidized tea
Characteristics: Aromatic and very specific teas – a wide range of different types from lightly oxidized fresh Bao Zhong type to more oxidized and stronger roasted cliff teas.
Origin: Bei Yun, Feng Huang Shan (Phoenix Mountain), Fujian, China
▪ Southern Fujian, An Xi County: Tie Guan Yin, Huang Jin Gui, Mao Xie, etc.
▪ Northern Fujian: Wu Yi Yan Cha, ‘cliff teas’ from the Wu Yi Mountains with their typical “earth bone floral fragrance”. The most famous native and ancient cliff teas include: Da Hong Pao ‘Great Scarlet Robe’, Tie Luo Han ‘Iron Monk’, Bai Ji Guan ‘Rooster’s White Comb’ and Shui Jin Gui ‘Golden Turtle’. Together they are called Si Da Ming Cong – 四大名丛 – literally ‘four famous bushes’.
▪ Eastern Guang Dong, Chao Zhou: Phoenix Shui Xian type teas from the “phoenix” mountain range – Feng Huang Shan, are among the most interesting Chinese teas ever. Phoenix Shui Xian is divided into Dan Cong, Lang Cai and Shui Xian, each category above has 4 quality grades and each of these grades has 3 subcategories. All ‘Phoenix Mountain’ teas are further divided by scent and/or tree type. There are approximately 100 different cultivars for the production of phoenix teas, all originating from the Shui Xian cultivar of Feng Huang Shan (Phoenix Mountains). The term Dan Cong, literally ‘lone bush/tree’, derives from the fact that each cultivar originates or has been cut from a tree originating from one of these mushu ‘mother trees’. Sometimes, in the declarations of these types of teas, you can find an indication of the number of generations from the original mother tree of the fragrance.
▪ lightly fermented (<10%) Bao Zhong, Wen Shan Bao Zhong type
▪ fermented at 30-40%, rolled, high mountain, Dong Ding, A Li Shan, Li Shan, Shan Lin Xi, Da Yu Ling type
▪ special and more fermented (50-60%) type of Dong Fang Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty), Bai Hao, Peng Feng Cha, Wu Si Cha, Butterfly of Taiwan etc.
Processing: The production of oolong teas consists of seven steps, so it is the most demanding tea to produce, which requires a lot of knowledge and a fully mastered technique. Every mistake during production can be seen in the resulting tea and its quality. Machines are used to a greater or lesser extent for common varieties in these days, but the best quality teas are still produced entirely by hand.
Harvested leaves are spread out (inside and/or outside in the sun) to soften the cell walls of the leaves (the leaves are then ‘more flexible’). At the same time, excess moisture evaporates, the natural enzymatic decomposition of the leaf cells begins and any grassy taste contained in the leaves is removed
2. Shaking (overturning)
Traditional processing: The leaves are shaken in large wicker baskets or manually shaken on wicker mats to damage the leaves (preferably along the edges) and thereby begin oxidation
Modern processing: Machine crushing and partial breaking of the leaves to better balance the taste of the resulting tea
A step also used for black teas, after fading and shaking the leaves, the enzymatic decomposition of the leaf cells continues with exposure to air, the length of this step determines the degree (rate) of oxidation, which differs for individual types of oolongs from different places of origin. The leaves change color from dark green to red. At this stage the grassy, floral or fruity flavor characteristics of the tea begin to develop
4. Kill green or fixation
Stops the natural fermentation and growth processes inside the leaves without damaging them, using steaming, manual pressing in pans or baking
Tea leaves are passed through a hot and/or cold roller, where they are slightly broken and shaped, which gives them shape and intensifies the taste of the resulting tea
Stabilizes any moisture inside the leaves, stops fermentation (oxidation), prevents mold growth, removes the grassy taste of the leaves and develops the flavor of the tea. Drying in the sun, in pans or with hot air is used
different methods of roasting/baking in pans or in wicker baskets using coal or electricity to achieve a smoky or fruity aroma.
Lesser quality teas are often roasted a little more to cover up their potential flaws and to make them smell better. Such teas can be recognized by the fact that they only taste roasted without a floral or fruity aftertaste, which is completely absent. Cliff teas, which are traditionally more roasted, are normally left to age for some time (a few months to a year) and then briefly roasted once more, packaged and exported. In very fresh ‘yan cha’, the roastiness can be very strong, but should never completely dominate.
History: Oolong teas, as we know them today, are the result of a long-term development that began around the Tang Dynasty (608-907) in the Bei Yun region of the ‘Phoenix’ Mountains of Fujian Province. It was originally known as ‘Beiyun tea’ (according to the place of origin) and the news about it spread due to its high quality and unique taste. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it was chosen as the first tea to be paid to the imperial court (‘Tribute tea’). The emperor always chose the regions whose tea would be taken to the court, which was always a huge honor and good for business at the same time.
In time, government officials, monks and scholars began to visit the areas of Fujian province, and they were all surprised by the strong and distinct taste of the ‘bones of the earth’ teas originating from the Wu Yi Mountains, which was so far from the taste of green tea, the only commonly known type at that time. These teas came to be known as ‘Yan Cha’ or ‘cliff teas’. The emperor, hearing about these teas, had a sample of pressed green tea sent to Wu Yi and asked for the tea in return as a gift for the imperial court. The emperor then received back a pressed ‘Yan Cha’ with a dragon and phoenix pattern embossed on the surface, which became very famous.
The fame of Wu Yi teas spread to the general public, and teas from this area were regularly presented to the imperial court during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
In 1725, tea producers in the An Xi region in southern Fujian adapted the tea production methods from Wu Yi, further improved them and thus gave birth to a new type of tea – oolong. During the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1796–1895), several varieties of the tea tree were imported to Taiwan from mainland China, mainly from the Fujian province (until then, only low-quality tea was grown here). Thanks to the gradual development of its own processing techniques and breeding of its own varieties, tea of very high quality and unique character began to be produced here.
The anglicized word oolong, commonly used today, is only a phonetic transcription of the Chinese ‘wu long’, which can be translated into English as a ‘Black dragon’.
Health: Oolongs commonly contain: caffeine, flavonol, tea polyphenols, vitamins C and E, catechins, carotene and minerals.
The following beneficial effects of oolongs on health are traditionally reported:
◦ polyphenols prevent tooth decay
◦ high vitamin C content has a beneficial effect on the skin
◦ help against skin irritation
◦ support enzymes that break down fats and generally improve metabolism
◦ lower blood cholesterol levels
◦ they relax the abdominal muscles
◦ regulate body temperature