The oolong tea family is incredibly varied and one oolong tea can be completely different from another one. One way of dividing oolong teas which is generally agreed upon is the division into Taiwanese and Fujian oolongs.
In this blog post I will explain:
- what is oolong tea
- what is the division into Taiwanese and Fujian oolongs based on
- what are the most famous Fujian oolongs
- what are the Fujian oolong tea benefits
What is oolong tea
Until the 19th century, the Europeans thought that green and black teas came from different plants, as the Chinese were carefully guarding their tea-making secrets. However, in reality all the types of teas, from white to black, come from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis, also known as the tea plant, and only differ in degrees of oxidation.
White tea and green tea are the least oxidized and the black tea is the most oxidized. Oolong tea is the vast family of teas situated between green and black. The tea leaves are collected, left to wither in the sun and left to oxidize. At some point the tea maker stops the oxidation by heating the leaves, either in a wok or in a special machine.
What is the difference between the Taiwanese and Fujian oolongs
The division of oolong teas into Taiwanese and Fujian oolongs is first of all a geographical one. Fujian is a province on the southeastern coast of China with a capital in Fuzhou. It is famous for its picturesque Wuyi mountains whose slopes gave birth to China's most famous oolong teas. Taiwanese oolongs come, quite unsurprisingly, from Taiwan, an island which lies opposite of Fujian, on the other side of the South China Sea. One of the most famous Taiwanese oolong teas is Pouchong oolong tea.
But apart from their origins, there are other important differences between the two. This quote from my favorite book on tea, The Ultimate Guide on Chinese Tea says it all:
"Fujian oolongs tend to be heavily oxidized until the leaves are dark green or brown, while Taiwan oolongs are only lightly oxidized so the leaves retain much of their original green color [...] Some Taiwanese oolongs are lighter and more delicate than many green teas, while the strongest Fujian oolongs are heavier than the average [black tea] [...] Taiwanese oolongs seem like something that might have been created by Monet, while Fujian's oolongs are more like the work of Rembrandt."
Before the rise of the Indian teas, Fujian oolongs were widely exported to Europe and among the most frequently drunk by the European aristocracy.
What are the most famous Fujian oolongs
The Fujian province covers a territory the same size as England and of widely varying landscapes, ranging from the coast to the mountain slopes. That's why one Fujian oolong may be very different from another, much like a Burgundy red wine has little in common with a Rhone area red wine.
Wuyi cliff oolong tea
Most of the famous Fujian oolongs come from the Wuyi mountains. Quoting again The Ultimate Guide, "one could easily devote a lifetime to exploring the universe of flavors and aromas that come from just this one mountain."
The oolongs made in the Wuyi mountains are generally referred to as yancha which stands for cliff tea. Due to the diversity of the Wuyi mountains' landscape and the variety of cultivars used for tea making, these teas are very different from each other and ordered in various classifications (according to tea field geography, grades, styles of processing, cultivar used or name of the flowers growing next to the field).
These teas are naturally sweet, with caramel taste which can be accompanied by orchid notes. The leaves are dark green, almost brown. The most famous of the cliff teas is Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe. The leaves from the ancient trees growing in one specific place in the Wuyi mountains are said to be almost exclusively reserved for the high Chinese government officials. When twenty grams of this tea appeared on an auction in Hong Kong, it was sold for 21 000 USD.
Other famous Wuyi cliff oolong teas are: Iron Arhat, White Cocksomb, Golden Water Turtle (what a lovely name!), Wuyi Cinnamon and Octagonal Pavilion Dragon Whiskers.
This tea comes from the south of the Fujian province from the Anxi County and has been one of the most prized teas worldwide before the rise of black tea in the nineteenth century. Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Kuan Yin or Tie Guan Yin) is also a cultivar and teas bearing this name are also produced elsewhere including in Taiwan. However, the best Iron Goddess teas are the ones from the Anxi County in the Fujian province.
Not unlike Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), this tea is surrounded by legends, most famous of which being the one about a Mr. Wei who took such good care of a forlorn Iron Goddess temple that the goddess herself offered him a shoot of excellent tea that was to become Ti Kuan Yin.
This tea consists of beautiful large leaves rolled into tiny pearls which unroll during subsequent infusions. The taste is creamy and flowery, reminiscent of orchids.
Other Fujian oolong teas
Apart from the cliff teas and the Iron Goddess of Mercy, other famous Fujian oolongs include:
- North Fujian Water Immortal (Minbei Shuixian) - this tea comes from tea trees which can be even 16 feet tall and have unusually large flowers. It is sweet in taste and can be aged for years.
- Yellow Gold Osmanthus (Huangjin Gui) this tea from Anxi county has very intensive floral scent, similar to that of osmanthus
- Yongchun Buddha Hand - the name of this tea from Southern Fujian is due to its resemblance with the citrus plant called Buddha Hand
What are the Fujian oolong tea benefits
It would be a shame to drink the excellent Fujian oolong teas just for their health benefits. However, it would also be a shame not to be aware of the beneficial impact that these teas may have on our health!
Fujian oolong teas contain many elements that can positively impact our health such as polyphenols, flavonoids or fluor. They contain caffeine but in much smaller quantities than coffee and thanks to that, are not associated with the same health risks as coffee or other types of tea. Quite surprisingly the teas with the highest concentration of caffeine are not black teas but Japanese green teas.
Polyphenols in Fujian oolong tea
It is true that the polyphenols remain a mysterious ingredient and require more testing. However, there is increasing amount of recent research that shows that thanks to them, regular tea drinkers incur a lower risk of certain types of cancer.
Another study ventures that the oolong and black tea polyphenols have various health benefits such as anticancer, antioxidant, anti-cardiovascular, anti-microbial, anti-hyperglycemic, and anti-obesity activities.
Flavanoids in Fujian oolong tea
Of the antioxidants contained in tea, the flavonoids seem to have the highest impact on the heart disease prevention. A study confirms that tea consumption can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease development . Another study claims that drinking tea might lower the risk of stroke.
Fujian oolongs impact on weight loss
The most widely known health impact of drinking Fujian oolong tea is probably its impact on weight loss. Thanks to the caffeine that it contains this tea increases the energy expenditure which is one way in which it accelerates weight loss. Apart from that, it seems to accelerate metabolism and help with the digestive tract health.
Most of the studies conducted on animals show that drinking tea significantly reduced the gaining of body weight and lowered blood glucose or insulin levels. Studies conducted on humans, both women and men, seem to confirm these effects.
When reading this, it is difficult not to think of the legendary emperor Shennong, the founder of Chinese medicine in the 27th century bce who recommended drinking tea as a medicinal drink. It is impressive to see that almost five thousand years later advanced scientific studies confirm these initial findings!