Let us mesmerize into the world of tea!!!
Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage, after water. Fresh brewed tea is 100% natural, fat-free, calorie-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free, and low in caffeine—tea is the healthy choice.
Tea is much more than the processed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, it is also an act, an experience. Many of us will be surprised to know that all teas, white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh are made from the leaves of the same species but the variety of the particular Camellia sinensis plant, weather conditions and the soil contributes to the final taste of the tea. The significant differences of tea type develop in the processing of the leaves.
A factor which determines whether the tea plant will become white, green, oolong or black is ‘Oxidation.’ The process of oxidation begins soon after the leaf is being plucked from the plant and the degree to which the leaf is oxidized is one of the main factors of determination.
Tell someone you’d like an oolong and they’ll likely just stare. It’s a tea so uncommon in India that we don’t even have a proper word for it!!! This tea is still uncommon around us despite the fact that it offers more diversity of flavor, complexity, and body than any other variety of tea.
Are you getting bored of your malty Assam tea and your springy sencha? If so, then it’s time to switch to a new variety of tea called as the “Oolong tea.”
Origin of Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is of “Chinese origin” and its usage dates back almost 400 years ago in china. It is said to originate in the China’s Wu Yi Mountains in around the 15th Century.
Oolong gets its name from the Chinese for ‘Black Dragon’, although it is not clear why. The Chinese considered oolong tea to be a miraculous healing drink in the ancient times and is still used as a medical decoction in china.
“Taiwan” is the leading producer of Oolong tea across the world. Oolong cultivation in Taiwan was developed during the 1860s by Scottish merchant adventurer, John Dodd, who encouraged famers to grow and trade in the tea.
Both China and Taiwan have promoted and protected the production of quality Oolongs. Due to this reason, Oolong is now among the fastest growing categories in the fine tea market.
Oolong Tea Varieties
- Iron Buddha (Tie Guan Yin)
Also known as ‘The Iron Buddha’ or ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’ and is one the most popular teas in china.
It is sweet floral liquor with mild astringency and the best varieties come from around Xi Ping in Fujian.
- Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao)
This is a more oxidized type and one of the most approachable types of oolong tea. Also known as the ‘Big Red Robe’ because of the deep, intense all-enveloping flavors that cloak the mouth.
The leaves are subjected to high fire treatment via roasting which gives the drink its subtle smokiness.
Mildly fruity in taste, this oolong has a honey or floral taste with a hint of a caramel left behind that comes again from the roasting of the leaves.
- Dan Cong Tea
‘Dan Cong’ is the champagne of Oolongs and the higher grades can fetch fantastic prices.
Picked from old trees grown around the town of Chao Zhou in Guangdong, it produces rich, orange-brown liquor that can explode on the palate with intense flavors of apricot and honey.
It is almost always mixed with at least one other component, the most common of which are orange blossom, orchid, grapefruit, almond, and ginger.
- Ali Shan
‘Alishan’ is one of the best Oolongs and is grown at high altitude in southern Taiwan. This is a ‘fisted’ tea which is gently rolled into balls to slow down oxidation.
Ali shan has a very creamy flavor and the high elevation of the tea plantations of Alishan helps to concentrate the sweet flavors of the leaves.
- JIN XUAN (MILK)
This hand-processed variety is famous for its creaminess. It is grown in the Fujian province of mainland China.
The milky feel and smooth texture make Jin Xuan pretty special. Add to that the aroma of sweetened cream and/or pineapple and a light floral flavor, and you’ve got yourself one tasty and soothing beverage.
- FORMOSA BAI HAO
One of the most prized teas in the world. This is known as the longest fermented oolongs with a sweet and fruity with warm and spicy undertones.
The beverage is reddish in color and has a rich taste due to fermentation.
- SI JI CHUN
This delicious Taiwanese variety comes from the Nantou area of Taiwan.
It is a high-grown type as it comes from a very mountainous region and, as is the case with all varieties, the high-grown oolongs are the most valued for their richer and more pleasant tastes.
Si Ju Chun is hand-picked and hand-processed using traditional methods.
Nutritional Value of Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is said to be a gift from nature that is rich in antioxidants. It also contains vital vitamins and minerals such as calcium, manganese, copper, carotene, selenium, and potassium, as well as vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. Additionally, it contains folic acid, niacin amide and other detoxifying alkaloids.
Since, it is developed in semi-fermented processing, providing the oolong tea with numerous polyphenolic compounds, adding even more valuable health benefits to oolong tea.
Oolong tea also contains caffeine and theophylline and theobromine which are similar to caffeine which on consumption may stimulate nervous system.
- Weight Management
- Removal of harmful free radicals
- Healthy skin
- Healthy bones
- Controls diabetes
- Anti-cancer properties
- Mental performance and health
Oolong tea production
The main production of Oolong tea takes place in China and Taiwan, and more recently it has been taking place in India, Vietnam and Nepal. Oolong tea can be machine or handmade. Premium grade oolong teas such as the high grade Wuyi Rock tea and Anxi Tieguanyin, are always handmade.
Oolong is neither a black tea nor a green tea; it falls into its own category of tea. This tea is traditionally rolled, twisted or curled into tight balls or thin strands.
Typically speaking, there are seven stages to the production of Oolong Tea. It is a very stunning process and the most important step being the leaf selection or harvesting.
Stage 1- Harvesting
Oolong tea leaves are usually picked 3-4 times a year in spring summer and autumn. Usually more mature leaves are targeted consisting of one bud with 3-4 leaves. They are picked when buds at the top of bushes mature to half the size of a fully grown leaf.
The quality of the tea tends to vary with the seasons. Spring and autumn tea are higher quality than summer tea. Tender leaves picked earlier in the season may be used to make higher grade tea.
A popular picking technique is to face the hands upwards, hold the stem between the index and middle fingers, then break the stem gently using the thumb.
Stage 2 – Withering
The fragile just picked tea leaves are first intentionally bruised by tossing or shaking them. This is an important step to help initiate the oxidation process that will give oolong tea leaves their ultimate flavor.
These freshly picked leaves are left to cool either indoors or outdoors to remove moisture. Initially the leaves are spread out thinly on a bamboo mat to prevent too much heat from accumulating inside the leaves. In the later stage, the leaves are spread out more thickly.
The process of withering softens the tea leaves, making them flexible and supple so they won’t break during the important step of rolling and shaping the oolong tea.
Stage 3- Bruising
This is one of the critical stages in the process and is done in continuation with the withering process. During the process of withering and bruising, the oxidation of the tea leaves take place. Oolong teas vary in levels of oxidation, anywhere from 8% to 80%, and therefore vary in color and flavor depending on the goals of the tea producer. The bruising process removes moisture and grassiness.
The general principle of bruising is – “heavy bruising goes with light withering, and light bruising with heavy withering.” The withered leaves are shaken in bamboo baskets and hand-pressed in order to bruise the edges to expose tea juices to air and speed up the oxidation process. The leaves are then spread out to slow down oxidation and other chemical changes. This shaking-resting process is then repeated several times.
This process is stopped when the leaf edges start to become red and an aroma is generated in the leaves.
Stage 4 – Fixation
Once the tea leaves are oxidized to the desired level, heat is applied to halt the oxidation process and to start drying out the leaves. The bruised leaves are pan-fried at high heat to kill the enzymes and stop the oxidation process.
This process is called fixation as it lasts for a very shorter period of time and the main purpose is to kill enzymes and stop oxidation.
Stage 5 – Rolling & Shaping
The process of rolling helps the tea leaves to develop their unique appearance and flavor profile. Rolling further exposes the chemical components of the tea leaves to oxygen and spurs on the oxidation process.
While the process of rolling takes place the tea leaves the tea leaves take a definite shape. Pressure is applied during this process which leaves to secret juices. These juices interact and form new compounds. Some of these tea juices are absorbed back. Some are left behind on the outside and subsequently make tea quicker to brew.
Depending on the varieties, oolong tea can be either long and curly (Wuyi Rock tea), semi-rounded (Taiwan Dong Ding tea) or fully-rounded (Anxi Tieguanyin tea).
Stage 6- Baking
The process of baking is done in two parts. The first process is known as “Maohong” and the second one is called as “Zhuhong.”
In Maohong, high heat is applied for a short period of time. It is a very fast process and removes moisture, stabilizes chemical profile and freezes external shape.
In Zhuhong, the tea leaves are treated at low heat for an extended period of time. This is an important stage as the tea maker usually decides on how much “fire” goes into the tea. The additional slow baking improves the color and aroma of the tea.
There are various types of fuels used for this process and the type of fuel can impact the quality of tea. Charcoal is the best, followed by wood, electricity, gas, oil and coal.
Stage 7- Sorting, Cooling and Packaging
This is the final stage in the processing of oolong tea. The leaves are sorted to remove the substandard leaves and twigs. Once the tea leaves have fully dried, they are sorted by experts into various groups of similar size and color to create different lots of like teas. Each lot of tea gets a different industrial grade depending on how much whole leaf, broken leaf or unopened tea buds end up in the lot.
Buying and storing oolong tea
Storage of Oolong tea is very important in order to maintain its freshness. It’s always important to buy Oolong tea from a reputed company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged as well as provide storage tips to help prolong the life of the tea. It is also important to ask the tea vendor about the oxidation levels of your oolong tea. A more oxidized oolong tea will have more shelf life than a less oxidized one.
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