Oolong tea belongs to the category of partially fermented tea. Its degrees of oxidation, fall between green and black tea, are mainly controlled by the pan-firing procedure. Oo (Wu) means Blackand Long means Dragon. Oolong Tea is also known in China as “Qing Cha”.The bright yellowish infusion has a fresh rich flavour and a long-lasting aromatic aftertaste.
A Quick History of Oolong Tea
Oolong Tea as we know it today is the result of a long evolution, originating during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) in the Beiyun region of Phoenix Mountain (Fenghuanshang) in Fujian Province. It was first known as Beiyun Tea and because of its fine quality and unique flavour, it was the first tea to be made a tribute tea, in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the tribute custom, tea regions were selected by the Emperor to produce tea to be offered as a gift to the royal court, which was a great honour and good for business.
In time, government officials, monks and scholars began visiting and emigrating to the Fujian area and were surprised with the strong “earth-stone” taste of the teas from the Wuyi Mountain region, so different from the un-fermented Green Tea which was the only tea that existed in China to that point. These teas came to be known as Wuyi or Cliff Tea. Hearing of this wonderful new tea, the Emperor sent a sample of an un-fermented compressed Green Tea cake to Wuyi and asked for tribute tea. What he received was Dragon Phoenix Compressed Tea which was made from a mold which imprinted the tea cake with the design of a dragon and a phoenix. This tea became very famous as a result.
The fame of Wuyi teas spread far and wide and continued to be designated as a tribute tea throughout the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644 – 1911).
In 1725, tea producers in the Anxi region of Fujian adapted the methods of making traditionalWuyi Tea and improved the technology to develop a new tea – Oolong. In 1796, Oolong Tea was introduced to the Northern Fujian region and to Taiwan, where today, each region is well known for their distinctive Oolong Teas.
Most Popular Varieties:
Production of Oolong Tea
Picked leaves are spread out (inside and/or outside in the sun) to soften the cell walls of leaves. This draws the moisture to the surface for evaporation, softens the leaves, begins natural enzymatic fermentation and sets up the next stage of processing. This also reduces the grassy taste of tea leaves.
Tossing/Bruising (Turning Over)
Known as “Shaking” in Chinese, because in the old days, the leaves were simply shaken in a wicker basket. Today, this step is done with the aid of machines to further break down the leaves by mechanical means (as opposed to chemical means as in “Withering”). This improves oxidation and mixes chemical elements from the stems with the leaves, removing bitterness and balancing the flavour of the tea.
Oxidization (Partial and Full)
This step used in Oolongs and Black Teas continues the natural process of fermentation by allowing the leaves to rest after the Withering or Tossing/Bruising (Turning Over) steps. The time allowed determines the amount of fermentation for the tea being made. At this point, the leaves turn to a darker green or even a red colour, due to the breaking down of the cell structure of the leaves. It is at this stage where the tea begins to develop its grassy, flowery or fruity taste characteristics.
Stops the natural fermentation and growing processes within the leaves without damaging them. Steaming the leaves, hand pressing in a hot pan and baking techniques are used. This also sets up the next step for Rolling/Forming the leaves.
Leaves are passed through hot and/or cold rollers to slightly break down the leaves, which establishes the shape of the leaves and intensifies the tea flavour.
Establishes the final moisture content of the leaves, stops fermentation, prevents mold growth, removes any grassy leaf taste and develops the tea’s aroma. Sun drying, pan heating and hot air methods are used.