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!