Oolong or Wu Long means "Black Dragon". Oolongs are half-fermented (or semi-oxidized) teas that are in the specialty tea family. Half-fermented because the processing of Oolong tea requires only a partial fermentation (oxidation) of the leaves. Oolongs occupy an intermediate position between non-fermented green teas and fully fermented black teas and are the most diverse and interesting loose leaf teas. Oolongs can have varying degrees of oxidation that ranges somewhere between 10-35% in classic Chinese Oolongs to 60-70% in classic Taiwanese (Formosa) Oolongs. Oolong specialty tea is often made from mature leaves, collected from older tea trees.
Processing Oolong is considered the art of tea, where the character of tea is created. Tea masters participate in Oolong tea processing competitions to demonstrate their professional skills at this fine art.
Let’s take a look at Oolong manufacturing process.
There are no standard recipes on how to manufacture oolong tea; it is up to the discretion of each tea garden or tea master to decide on processing and the level of oxidation.
Immediately after gathering, the tea leaves are spread in a thin layer on special bamboo mats under direct sunlight for withering that will let most of water evaporate. The withering process time varies depending on the ambient temperature.
The next step of processing is very peculiar, withered leaves are placed in a large bamboo basket and put in a shady area. Approximately every hour, the tea leaves are shacked and gently tumbled in order to bruise the edges of the leaves to start an oxidation, at the same time avoiding breaking or crushing them. This procedure has to be done several times, until following effect will be reached: bruised up edges of the leaves due to the fermentation become brown blush (like 'rusty'), while veins and parts of the leaves should remain green.
Once the desired level of fermentation is reached, the oxidation process should be stopped immediately. This is achieved through the heat drying phase of raw materials in scorching air called "panning". The pan roasting of the leaves requires extensive experience in Oolong tea processing.
Most Oolongs are dried in two stages: first is partially, primary drying and rolling of tea leaves, then a final finish drying. Some highly fermented Oolongs undergo an additional stage of wetting and softening.
The partially drying process is carried out manually. This stage is necessary to stop the fermentation. Partially drying can be done in 2-4 steps, when the raw material is taken out of the oven, quickly cooled, then rolled. Then again dried in the oven, rapidly cooled, then rolled again, and so on. Afterwards, the leaves go through a final drying phase, ending oxidation and often followed by baking (roasting). Several kinds of Oolong are not rolled just dried after panning. With such a "multistage" technology, taste and degree of fermentation of Oolongs differentiate. Although, manufacturing Oolong is very intensive and meticulous process, unique aroma and flavor profile of this specialty tea makes this tea worth the trouble.
Good quality Oolongs are only loose leaf teas, not tea bags!
The most widely known and actively exported Oolongs are Chinese (Fujian and Yunnan) and Taiwanese (Formosa). Among the most well-known are Formosa Oolongs. Grown and manufactured in Taiwan, named after the province in which grown, these teas are considered the best in quality and affordability among Oolong the loose leaf tea family. Taiwanese Oolongs are often called "Champagne of Teas". Typically Taiwanese Oolongs are specifically labeled that indicates the quality of tea:
1. Fanciest or Extra Fancy
3. Extra Choice or Extra Fine
5. Fully Superior
Chinese Oolongs are famous for the fact that are used in a Chinese traditional procedure named Gongfu Cha and withstand up to 7 steepings.
Brewing Oolong is a very delicate process because it strongly depends on the type of oolong, more precisely, the degree of its fermentation. A lightly fermented Oolong is closest to the brewing of green tea with 190-195 degrees water and the brewing time 1-3 minutes. More fermented Oolong (such as Formosa) is brewing a little longer 4-5 min in hotter water 203-212. After brewing a quality Oolong has pronounced specific characteristics that cannot be mixed with any other kinds of tea.
The best quality Oolongs expresses a strong and rich floral aroma and a remarkable peachy flavor with a honey-sweet aftertaste. Oolongs that closer in oxidation to black teas, have a nutty, toasted flavor. Color of brew is very diverse: from light yellow with green notes (like green tea) to a dark red. Oolong specialty teas contribute 2% of tea consumption of all the teas all over the world.
Enjoy a great cup of Oolong, happy drinking!
If you're new to the tea-drinking world, you'll want to have some fun experimenting with different flavors. However, at first you may feel overwhelmed. It helps to know something about how tea is grown and processed to start with. There are some similarities in the ways any tea is processed, and it's good when you're choosing a particular flavor to know what the process necessitates.
Tea Harvesting and Processing
First, the uppermost leaves of the plant are harvested and then they're left to wither for a day or so. There are chemicals inside these leaves that need to be released, so then the leaves are crushed. After that, the crushed leaves are rolled and left in the air to oxidize over a few hours. At the end, they're heated so that all dampness is removed. When the leaves have been completely oxidized, the result is black tea, which is probably the most commonly used in the world. Around seventy-five percent of people in the world regularly drink black tea.
Green tea, on the other hand, is heated before the leaves are rolled, so it is not oxidized and stays green. That green tea accounts for the other twenty-five percent of the tea that people drink. It's less common, but is becoming more popular as its health benefits are being realized and its taste is being appreciated. There's a vast array of tea flavors, so you'll probably want to focus on those within the category you prefer the most. If you like black, or green, or white teas, select from within that category to make it an easier choice.
A Question of Quality
Select loose tea that's been picked early in its growth to really get a great taste. You can go for cheaper teas, but you'll be glad if you don't stint on quality. It's always best to use teas that have been grown in gardens without chemicals and that have been processed manually over time without the aid of chemical additives that are meant to hurry the process along. Artificial flavors are also to be avoided as they take away from the tea's flavor, giving it a more harsh taste. If you like strong flavors, like licorice or blackberry, a black tea is your best bet. Its robust quality can withstand the addition of stronger flavors.
Flavors to Your Taste!
Coffee drinkers often take to black teas that are well flavored. Green and white teas are more delicate, so choose them if you enjoy more subtle flavors such as pear or mango. Green tea is so subtle and delicate that it really goes well with light fruits or herbs such as mint or ginger. That's especially true of white tea, also. It has an aura that you take in almost as if you're inhaling the sweetness of roses or strawberries as you drink. You can be sitting in your kitchen and feel as if you're lounging in a tropical garden. However, for total well-being, don't just opt for the flavors you like.
...But Remember to Try New Things Too!
Look into the health benefits of particular teas, also, and find those that help you deal with your own particular set of health issues. There are so many to choose from, and you can find out more online or at your local health food store. Green and white teas especially are filled with anti-oxidants that can prevent cancer and help lots of other physical issues you may have or want to prevent. If you haven't fully explored the world of flavored teas, this is the time to begin your adventure. Body and mind will be glad you did!