Oolong teas are often referred to as ‘semi-fermented’ tea (as opposed to black teas which are ‘fermented’) and produced primarily in China and Taiwan (Formosa in tea terms). Chinese oolongs are produced from mature leaves that are processed immediately after plucking. First they are wilted in direct sunlight, then shaken in bamboo baskets to softly bruise the edges of the leaves. This action is followed by spreading the leaves out to dry so that the surfaces turn a yellowish colour. The edges become red as the chemicals in the bruised leaf react with oxygen. Shortly after this fermentation process is stopped by firing the leaves. Formosa oolongs undergo a longer fermentation period which is why Formosa leaves are blacker in appearance than china oolongs and give a richer, darker liquor than the pale orange – brown china oolong infusion.
Translated from Chinese and derived from the words wu and lung, Oolong means Black Dragon (the dragon is king of the waters in Chinese mythology). Oolongs teas have been produced in the Fujian province in the north of China for more than 900 years. The tea bushes were originally planted in central Fujian around the Wuyi mountain though are now also produced in Jianou in north Fujian and Anxi to the south. Latterly, Taiwan began producing Oolong teas which are referred to as Formosa Oolongs from whence some of the most noted varieties fetch extremely high prices.
The excellent quality of Fujian Oolong teas are attributed to the originally created tea picking and processing procedures, the rich varieties of the fine asexual tea trees and the natural environment of the production areas which are richly endowed by nature. It is regarded as a crystallization of “heaven, earth and people.”
Oolong tea is picked from the tender leaves of the tea bush camellia sinesis and after a short fermentation process the tea is dried to arrest this process. Hence the tea is semi-fermented or partially oxidized. Top quality China Oolongs exhibit a dried leaf which is curly, somewhat broad with an oily dark brown to brown-black colour. Upon brewing the tea leaves will show red edges with the midst being greenish. They render a natural flowery aroma reminiscent of sweet orchids and sweet osmanthus. The liquor produced by the infusion process is usually straw to golden coloured and is medium to full-bodied with a delightful smooth, mellow and sweet taste and in excellent qualities, a peach-like touch. The leaves can be watered several times to bring several cups from the original allotment. Oolong tea is best enjoyed without milk and sugar to capitalize on its’ unique qualities.
Oolong tea has a remarkable effect in aiding digestion by helping to eliminate fat, helps reduce the effects of fatigue and quenches thirst. Some of the best known China Oolongs are Ti Kuan Yin (meaning Iron Goddess of Mercy), Se Chung, Wu-I Rock , Fo Shou to name a few.