Oolong tea (Wu long)

Oolong tea, also called wu-long tea, originated in the Fukien province of China. It is a medium-bodied fruity-tasting tea that has similarities to black and green tea varieties. 

Oolong tea has the rich aroma characteristic of black tea, with the freshness of green tea, but without the bitterness. 

Commonly referred to as “semi-fermented” tea, oolong is a delicious tea, though one of the most complicated to produce.

Oolong tea leaves.
Oolong tea.

How is oolong tea made?

Black tea undergoes extensive fermentation, while green tea undergoes minimal fermentation in its production. The processing for oolong tea falls in between that of these two varieties. 

The leaves are spread out in direct sunlight to wither immediately after harvesting. This part of the process reduces the moisture content and softens the leaves. 

Following withering, the leaves are then put into bamboo baskets and shaken briskly to bruise the leaf edges. 

Next, the leaves are spread out to dry in the shade. 

This process of shaking and spreading the leaves is repeated numerous times. As it is repeated the bruised leaf edges begin to turn red (through oxidation), while the centers of the leaves remain green.

The amount of fermentation depends on the type of oolong and can vary from approximately 20% for a “green” oolong, to 60 % for a classic Formosa oolong. 

When the tea leaves have reached the required level of fermentation, the oxidation process must be stopped immediately. This is achieved by pan-firing the leaves at high temperatures. 

The resulting tea leaves have a lower moisture content than is found in green tea, and therefore a longer shelf life.

Oolong tea leaves have the appearance of loosely twisted balls, which vary in color depending on the level of fermentation.

Types of oolong tea and flavor

Oolong tea is graded according to the season it was harvested, the amount of processing, and the quality of the leaves. 

Oolong teas harvested during the summer months are the most consistent and stable, and considered to be the highest quality of oolong teas.

The finest variety of oolong tea is Formosa oolong, which is sometimes referred to as “the champagne of teas.”

Some popular varieties of oolong tea include: 

• Ti Kuan Yin – delicate peach flavoring with nutty undertones

• Tieguanyin – sweet to the palette

• Shuixian – darker oolong that features a spicy flavor

• Da Hong Poa – light and delicate

• Fenghuang Dancong – flowery sweet taste

• Darjeeling – a semi-fermented version of the traditional black tea variety

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