Saturday, October 12, 2013

What Is Oolong (Wulong) Tea?

Ti Guan Yin tea in Muzha, Taiwan

What is oolong tea?  This is perhaps the most difficult Tea 101 topic I've written.  The tea is not one tea, but rather a range of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of teas that range between light and fresh to dark and roasty.  Technically, oolong tea spans the broad chasm between a green and a black.  Oolongs vary in many factors, but fundamentally, the variation is based on the amount of oxidation that the leaf undergoes in its process, from ~10% up to 75 (perhaps 85)%.  Factor in the local growing conditions, the tea farmer's skill and the tea maker's artistry, the roasting (if it applies), whether the tea is balled or twisted, the storage, the water, the brewer - and you have innumerable variations. 

The magic, to me, of oolong teas is in their diversity.  An oolong honors its provenance, forms a partnership with the tea farmer, yields to the hand of the tea maker and expresses itself uniquely for the brewer.  From the very green and minimally oxidized Baozhong, to the high mountain fragrant teas (like Alishan), to the highly oxidized Bai Hao oolongs to the deeply roasted traditional Ti Guan Yin or Wuyi teas, I hold that there is an oolong for everyone.  My tastes change based on the season and my mood, but I am generally drawn toward the heavily oxidized and/or roastier versions.  But wow how I appreciate the heavenly aromas or creamy mouth feel of others.

Baozhong oolong tea in Pinglin, Taiwan

Oolong tea processing originated in China, possibly the Wuyi region.  Today, Taiwan joins China in production of incredible oolong teas. (Some people believe the best oolongs are from Taiwan, but this is a highly personal choice.  I find great teas from both China and Taiwan.)  I had the wonderful opportunity to tour Taiwan last May and I've been blogging about it off and on, and will continue to do so.  The photos in this post are from that trip.

Oolong teas are often (and I find best) brewed in gong fu style.  This style of brewing invites us to slow down and be with the tea, and with our sipping companions.  (Here is a simple primer on one gong fu method.)  You may have heard of those tiny yixing pots; those are perfect for Gong Fu brewing, but porcelain and glass work well, too - as does a gaiwan.

Tell me, my tea friends, do you enjoy oolong teas?  If so, which ones and why?  And if you're just beginning to explore this style, please feel free to ask me questions.  I am by no means an expert, but I am a diligent student and can share what I've learned from those far more experienced than I, and from my sipping experiences.  And that sipping is the best way to explore and learn!

10 comments:

Marilyn said...

I have loved oolong for a long time. First were the florals and now tending toward more roasty ones, but love them all.

Rosemary said...

Great post, Steph. I enjoy oolong teas, but see that I need to adventure further into this territory!

Ana said...

Great post! Oolongs are so easy to love, and they have such range that there's always an oolong to fit my mood/need.

Karen said...

Wonderful post, Steph! Oolong teas are among my favorite teas. If I had to pick, I would say that I'm partial to the less oxidized Oolongs like a Tung Ting or a Jade, for their fragrant orchid aroma and rich, buttery flavor.

Angela McRae said...

Oh yes, I very much enjoy oolongs, and I agree that they can vary widely. As always, I find that the more I learn about tea, the more there is to learn. Sure wish I could visit you and become one of your students to benefit from your knowledge! (And I wanted to say thank you, too, for expressing sympathies about my mom. I so appreciate it!)

Angela McRae said...

Oh yes, I very much enjoy oolongs, and I agree that they can vary widely. As always, I find that the more I learn about tea, the more there is to learn. Sure wish I could visit you and become one of your students to benefit from your knowledge! (And I wanted to say thank you, too, for expressing sympathies about my mom. I so appreciate it!)

Teafan said...

Well done here! And I very much enjoy the range - like you, it changes as the seasons change. What great photos, esp that one on top.

Josh Chamberlain said...

Hi Steph,
Thanks for writing this post! I like that you address the breadth of oolong tea. As you say, there is an oolong for everyone. My favorites are more than just a few. So much of which oolong I like to drink has to do with the weather, my mood, the time of day, and a number of other variables. Consistently, I like green oolongs in the heat of a sunny day. If it is a summer night, I might go for a rich Iron Goddess of Mercy or an aged oolong. When we have some fog and rain, I love me a good Dong Ding, and so on... Thanks for writing about my favorite category of tea!

Steph said...

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experiences and knowledge! I should also mention that other tea growing regions are now producing oolong teas (outside of China and Taiwan). I've heard of oolong experimentation in Africa and recently had some delicious Darjeeling oolong.

Chinese Wedding Tea Ceremony said...

Thank you for your article. I know oolong tea better now. Since this kind of tea exist for long. Maybe you can also share your knowledge of its history with everyone