With this autumnal chill in the air, we feel like wrapping up warm while enjoying a comforting cuppa. The intriguing oolong is the perfect companion for this season, but how much do you know about it?
The Chinese call it black dragon tea, a very appropriate name for a complex beverage that still remains a bit of a mystery in the western world. Originated in the 17th century in the Wu Yi mountains of Fujian, China, oolong is probably the most diverse product of all the varieties of the camellia sinensis bush, with flavours that range from rose, orange blossom or orchid to cinnamon or cocoa nibs!
The development of oolong might not have occurred if it weren’t because of the 17th century Ming Dynasty’s ban on compressed tea, shaped into cakes, and the advocacy of the emperors for loose-leaf tea. In this tumultuous era full of changes in tea-making, Fujian’s tea artisans developed a technique for making partially oxidized and charcoal roasted tea. These first oolong leaves resembled the curling body of a mythical Chinese dragon, a symbol of power, strength and fortune, which was probably the reason behind its name.
The new way of producing tea spread from Fujian to other provinces in China before crossing to Taiwan at the beginning of the 19th century. There are many different styles of oolong, depending on the terroir and the dexterity of the tea masters. Producing oolong requires great skill and it’s considered more complicated than black or green tea, as minor changes in production can alter flavours, aromas and colours.
Whereas green tea is unoxidised and black tea is fully oxidised, oxidisation in oolong can range between 15%-75%. The tea leaves are usually picked from April or May or later in the year, depending on the kind of oolong. Then they are processed, so they might not reach the market until at least July each year. The leaves, big and rich in aromatic oils, are left to wither and oxidise in the sun before going through a complex process of firing or roasting and fermentation. Shaking the leaves at the appropriate time releases the characteristic aromas.
Oolong leaves can be formed into two different shapes. They can be rolled into long curled leaves, which is the most traditional style of oolong that presumably gives name to the tea, or they can be wrapped and curled into small beads with a tail.
Charcoal roasted oolong has traditionally being used as a digestive aid and a mild detoxifier of excess alcohol, cigarettes and fatty, greasy food, having been linked to liver health and muscle relief. Current research has been done on its possible links with weight loss. In traditional Chinese medicine, lightly oxidised oolongs are considered to be beneficial to the respiratory system.
To browse our oolong teas, you can visit our website. We’re currently offering 20% off all oolongs!