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Rolled oolong tea leaves
|Cantonese Jyutping||wu1 lung2 caa4|
|Hanyu Pinyin||wūlóng chá|
|Literal meaning||black dragon tea|
Oolong ( //) (simplified Chinese: 乌龙; traditional Chinese: 烏龍; pinyin: wūlóng) is a traditional Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a process including withering the plant under 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 oxidation can range from 8-85%, depending on the variety and production style. Oolong is especially popular with tea connoisseurs of south China and Chinese expatriates in Southeast Asia, as is the Fujian preparation process known as the Gongfu tea ceremony.
Different styles of oolong tea can vary widely in flavor. They 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 types of oolong tea, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian, such as Da Hong Pao, are among the most famous Chinese teas. Different varieties of oolong are processed differently, but the leaves are usually 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 in China.
The name oolong tea came into the English language from the Chinese name (simplified Chinese: 乌龙茶; traditional Chinese: 烏龍茶; pinyin: wūlóng chá), meaning "black dragon tea". In Chinese, oolong teas are also known as qingcha (Chinese: 青茶; pinyin: qīngchá) or "dark green teas".
The manufacture of oolong tea is intricate because some of the basic steps involved in its making are repeated many times before the desired amount of bruising and browning of the leaves is achieved. Withering, rolling, shaping, and firing are similar to black tea, but much more attention to timing and temperature is necessary. One last step, baking or roasting, is exclusive to oolong tea and is referred to as the real art in making this tea.
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 Mountains region. 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 the Wuyi Mountain where it was originally produced.
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.
The most famous and expensive oolong teas are made here, and the production is still usually accredited as being organic. Some of the better known cliff teas are:
- Da Hong Pao ("Big Red Robe"): a highly prized tea and a Si Da Ming Cong tea. This tea is also one of the two oolongs that make it to the list of Chinese famous teas.
- Shui Jin Gui ("Golden Water Turtle"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea.
- Tieluohan ("Iron Arhat"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea.
- Bai Jiguan ("White Cockscomb"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea. A light tea with light, yellowish leaves.
- Rougui ("Cassia"): a dark tea with a spicy aroma.
- Shui Xian ("Narcissus"): a very dark tea. Much of it is grown elsewhere in Fujian.
- Tieguanyin ("Iron Goddess of Mercy"): a China Famous Tea and very popular.
- Huangjin Gui ("Golden Cassia" or "Golden Osmanthus"): similar to Tieguanyin, with a very fragrant flavor.
- Single Bush Dancong (单枞)
- A family of strip-style oolong teas from Guangdong Province. The doppelgangers 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 term dancong originally meant phoenix teas all picked from one tree. In recent times though it has become a generic term for all Phoenix Mountain oolongs. True dancongs are still being produced, but they are extremely high quality and almost impossible to get in western markets.
Tea cultivation in Taiwan began in the 18th 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.
- Dongding ("Frozen Summit" or "Ice Peak"): Named after the mountain in Nantou County, Central Taiwan, where it is grown. This is a tightly rolled tea with a light, distinctive fragrance.
- Dongfang Meiren ("Oriental Beauty"): 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: 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 liquor which has a unique fruity aroma.
- Lishan (梨山) oolong: Grown near Lishan mountain 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. It is often grown on the extremely rare Taiwanese Mango, a sub-species of the tropical mango tree. Its thin, sturdy branches support the tea vines well and provide good sun exposure.
- Pouchong: the lightest and most floral oolong, with unrolled leaves of a light green to brown color. Originally grown in Fujian, it is now also widely cultivated and produced in Pinglin Township near Taipei, Taiwan.
- Ruan Zhi: a light variety of oolong tea. The tea is also known as Qingxin and as # 17. It originates from Anxi in Fujian province, China.
- Jin Xuan: a variety of oolong tea developed in 1980. The tea is also known as "Milk Oolong" (Nai Xiang) because of its creamy, smooth, and easy taste. Traditional milk oolongs have no actual milk in them, but some companies are adding things like milk powder or steaming the leaves over milk to make a counterfeit. It originates from Taiwan.
- Black Oolong
- Darjeeling oolong: Darjeeling tea made according to Chinese methods
- Assam smoked oolong: Assam's tea made according to Chinese methods, and delicately smoked over open fire
- Vietnamese oolong
Steeping (preparation of oolong tea)
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 steeped several times from the same leaves and, unlike other teas, it improves with rebrewing: it is common to steep the same leaves three to five times, the third or fourth steeping usually being considered the best.
A widely used ceremonial method of steeping oolongs in Taiwan and China is called gongfucha. This method uses a small steeping 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.
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