What is oolong tea?

oolong tea cup

There are six main families of tea: white, green, yellow, black, pu er and oolong tea. In France oolong is known as blue tea due to the bluish shade of its leaves and of certain infusions.

Where does oolong tea come from?

A lovely legend of oolong's origins says that the tea was invented by mistake by a man named Wu Liang who got distracted by a deer while picking tea leaves and left his tea leaves to dry.

Legends aside, this unique tea was mentioned for the first time in 1857 under the name of wulong, black dragon tea.

Oolong tea originates from the Chinese Fujian province where it has been cultivated for three centuries. Today it is also cultivated elsewhere in China as well as in Taiwan.

How is oolong tea made?

Oolong tea is neither black nor green, that's why the name "blue tea" that was given it by the French is so justified. Whereas all the teas are made from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis, they differ largely in colours and tastes thanks to different processing techniques.

While the green teas are not oxidized at all and black teas are fully oxidized, oolong teas are partially oxidized. 

In a country as vast as China, it is only normal that there is no one standard type of oolong tea. The two main subtypes would be

  • teas that are 10 to 45 percent oxidized and resemble green teas 
  • teas that are up to 70 percent oxidized and are closer to black teas

After being harvested, oolong tea leaves undergo the following processes:

  • withering - the leaves are left outside on cloths or bamboo racks to lose moisture
  • oxidation - the leaves are heated in ambient humidity for about eight hours
  • panning - the leaves are heated to stop the oxidation process
  • rolling - the leaves are rolled to achieve the visual typical of oolong tea
  • drying and firing - the leaves are dried for 10 to 20 minutes at 110°C to 120°C and fired twice in temperatures varying according to the region

What are the most famous oolong teas?

Anxi Tie Guan Yin

Oolong tea comes from the Fujian region and this is also where its most famous variety originates. Anxi Tie Guan Yin is related to a beautiful legend about a tea grower, Mr. Wei, who took care of the abandoned temple of the goddess Guan Yin. The goddess came to him in his sleep and told him that a precious treasure lies in the temple's cave. When Mr. Wei searched the cave, he found a small tea shot. He took good care of the shot and it became a healthy tea bush giving the most wonderful, delicate tea.

Mi Lan Xiang

Another famous oolong tea Mi Lan Xiang comes from the Guandong province. The name of this tea can be translated as Perfume of honeyed orchid which is probably the most beautiful and poetic name for a tea that one can think of.

Its name does justice to this exquisite tea. It comes from the Feng Huang Mountains (Phoenix Mountains) that have been a tea growing region for more than 1000 years and are famous for a few reasons:

  • the tea from this region has the dan cong notion which means it is made from a unique tea plant. The plants can be as much as 800 years old
  • the treas are planted uncut, in groves

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