Know your tea! Oolong: the what and how.
Words by Marlijn Berendsen
After our first introduction to the production method of green tea, let’s spend a little time on what many consider to be the most interesting category of tea: oolong.
The Black Dragon: an introduction
Oolong tea, Wu (black) Long (dragon) or blue tea, is produced from the same plant as the other types of tea: the Camellia Sinensis, albeit from a specially cultivated variety with long leaves.
As is often the case with tea, tales or origin tend to be wild little tales making it hard to distinguish fact from fiction.
What is certain though, is that oolong hails from China and was first mentioned in the 17th century. It is widely produced in China and Taiwan, although as many as 25-30 other nations now also produce their own varieties of Oolong.
Oolong differs from green, black, white and yellow tea in that it is "semi-oxidized".
There is some debate on the percentages, but we found that oolong can be categorized anywhere within the 8 to 80% oxidization range.
This allows for oolong to offer an incredible range of flavor profiles, from a lower oxidized oolong, sometimes referred to as “jade” oolong or "Pouchong", containing characteristics of green tea
- like floral, grassy top notes - all the way to the darker oxidized Oolongs which often display a more nutty, earthy flavor profile.
There really is something in there for everyone! And be assured, we intend to explore this category in depth in our tea-cocktail column.
Twisted oolong leaves
For oolong tea, usually, four to five leaves and a bud are picked. Like green tea, the leaves are withered first. They are then tossed or bruised in large baskets in order to improve the balance of flavor.
After the tossing, the leaves are now laid out to rest and are allowed to start oxidizing naturally. The amount of time of resting will determine the percentage of oxidation. Afterwards, the leaves are heated to stop the oxidization process. The elaborate process of rolling or twisting the tealeaves, sometimes repeated several times, also sets oolong apart from other tea categories. After the shaping of the leaves, they are dried down to the desired water percentage.
Rolled Oolong leaves