The Most Artisanal Style of Tea.
Highly sought-after by tea connoisseurs, oolong teas offer wonderfully complex aromatic profiles that are best savored slowly over the course of multiple infusions brewed in a traditional vessel such as a porcelain Gaiwan. This style is often referred to as gōngfū chá or “kung-fu tea,” alluding to the mindful attentiveness needed to brew tea this way. This is one reason that Oolong teas are some of the most artisanal teas in the world.
Oolong Tea and Oxidation
Oolong teas are considered “semi-oxidized,” meaning that the extent of oxidation falls somewhere between green and black tea. This is achieved with a tremendous amount of skill and intense focus from the craftsman. The aim is to partially oxidize the leaf using special withering, tossing, bruising, rolling and shaping techniques. Certain oolong teas might also be roasted or baked to develop a nutty, caramelized sweetness. The degree of oxidation and roasting are two of the main characteristics that are evaluated with oolong teas.
The oolong process was developed during the 18th century within the fabled Wuyi Mountains of China’s southeastern Fujian province. Oolong Tea was originally called Qing Cha (bluegreen tea) and later was dubbed Oolong Cha (“black dragon tea,” also spelled Wulong Cha) by the 18th Century Qing Dynasty Emperor, Qianlong. Since then the world of oolong tea has expanded but the main production zones of oolong today consist of Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan.
Taste of Place: Terroir & Oolong
Cultivar, or genetic strain of the tea plant, is a very important factor in oolong tea. The botanical species of tea, Camellia sinensis, has two primary subspecies: the “small-leaf” C. sinensis subsp. sinensis; and the “broad leaf” C. sinensis subsp. assamica. Within each of these subspecies are hundreds of unique strains that are referred to as cultivars. Much like wine, there is an intimate relationship between place and cultivars with Oolong tea. For example, true Champagne can only be made from select grape varietals in the Champagne region of France, so too must oolong teas be made from select tea cultivars in specific locations.