Oolong tea is synonymous with luxury in the tea world. The teas of Oolong came from the same plant as green and black tea, the camellia Sinensis but where they differ is how long they are oxidized or left out to absorb oxygen, after being picked and dried. The longer the tea is left out to oxidizes, the more fermented it becomes. The tea leaves and liquor will darken, and the flavours and aromas will change. More fermented and oxidized teas also begin to take on different chemical properties. So, Oolongs are no different. The next step in oxidation between greens and blacks, Oolong's name in Chinese may come from a phrase meaning, "as black as a crow" perhaps about the dark colour some of the Oolong leaves can take on. While the characters themselves mean "black dragon tea."
Recent studies show that there are many health benefits to drinking oolong tea. Some of the health benefits of Oolong include reducing the risk of heart disease, helping to fight obesity and weight gain, potentially helping to lower risks of developing cancer, diabetes prevention, providing antioxidants, fighting inflammation, aiding in healthy brain function, reducing eczema and helping to stave off bone loss. However, what of the two major nations for Oolong, China, and Taiwan?
While Darjeeling is often known as the "champagne of tea," Oolongs also have their candidate for the "champagne of teas" as well, and many of these candidates come from Taiwan, an island famous for Oolong, and for spreading Oolong tea culture around Asia in the new century. Taiwanese Oolong does have some choice types of tea including its native variant of the camellia Sinensis plant. Colloquially known as camellia formosensis, this plant is one of the reasons Taiwanese, and Chinese Oolong types differ. The term "Formosa" or "Formosan" refers to the old name for the island. Within the past 50 years, the Taiwanese government has encouraged tea farmers to cultivate at higher altitudes, and here is how the Alishan tea type developed. Alishan mountain produces tea known as the "champagne of teas" and possesses a sublime flavour that many travel the world to get a cup of. Some other famous Taiwanese or Formosan Oolongs include Jin Xuan, Dong Ding, Oriental Beauty, Tie Guan Yin, Tsui Yu "jade," Osmanthus Oolong and Bao Chong Oolong.
Oolong tea is still prevalent in China, especially in southern China and Fujian province. Here, a great deal of Oolong is produced in the Wuyishan area. Oolong is also an important function in the Gong Fu tea ceremony of Fujian. It was here that a great deal of Oolong tea culture was spread from Fujian to parts of Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Some famous Chinese Oolong teas include Da Hong Pao, Shui, Jin Gui, Tieluohan, Bai Jiguan, Rougui, Shui Xian, Tie Guan Yin, and Huangjin Gui. In Guangdong province, there also exists the "Phoenix Oolong." These Oolong teas are renowned for their otherworldly natural flavours that emulate fruits and flowers without human or artificial means.
Xing Xuang "Milk" Oolong
Xing Xuang or "Milk" Oolong was first cultivated in the '80s, in Nantou and Chiayi counties before spreading elsewhere in Taiwan. Milk Oolong is a hardy and rugged tea that can adapt to many different areas. This cultivar is a hybrid, like many other Taiwanese Oolongs. It has a sweet, buttery aroma and a milky taste with a creamy aftertaste, where it earned its name as "milky." Moreover, because of this, it makes a delicious dessert tea!
Osmanthus Oolong is enhanced with the soothing flavours and aroma of the Osmanthus flower. Osmanthus Oolong has a taste experience all on its own, with a floral and warming aroma. Oolong is a health-enhancing tea for sure, but even more so with the addition of the Osmanthus. This tea aids in harmonizing insulin levels, helps the body burn more calories than green tea, aids the immune system, helps slow down the ageing process by providing antioxidants, helps maintain a sharp memory, fights acne, strengthens bones and teeth and on top of all that, quickens the metabolism.
Oriental Beauty Oolong
This tea's name has an interesting backstory. While tasting a Formosa Oolong in the '60s, Queen Elizabeth noticed how elegantly the leaves in the teapot danced and moved. Struck by the leaves pretty "dance" she named the tea "Oriental Beauty," and the name has stuck ever since. Another curious tale and true one relates to the splendid flavour this tea possesses. During the harvesting process, insect eggs and their egg sacs are processed along with the leaves. This adds an earthy, robust flavour that is one of a kind. It also has led farmers to take on more sustainable and organic cultivation techniques, living in harmony with the insects that help to "flavour" Oriental Beauty.
This hybrid strain of Oolong is becoming rarer and rarer due to its popularity. When you give these leaves a brew, you will instantly know why. The colour of this tea's liquor belies its slightly fermented constitution and shows why it is known as "jade." The just a bit fermented nature of Bon Tea's exquisite selection is one that builds a unique character for this tea. The sweet peach notes and taste are unforgettable.
Dong Ding Oolong
With a legacy that goes back to mainland China, the "Frozen peak" or Dong Ding Oolong is one of the most famous Oolong teas in Taiwan. Cultivated in Lugu Township, this tea still undergoes a traditional processing method. It is moderately oxidized and has an equally modest amount of roasting. The aroma is worth a chapter of information and commentary, and the roasted and fruity notes and flavours make this tea a real treat.
Bao Chong Oolong
An unroasted Oolong that goes through a slight curling process Bao Chong Oolong is in a league of its own, more oxidized than greens, but on another plane compared to the more curled or roasted Oolongs. The leaves look stunning, first off, but in addition to the way the leaves look, the tea itself has a refreshing vegetal and herbal note and aroma.
Ti Kuan Yin
Named the "Iron Goddess of Mercy" from Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy found in Buddhist and Daoist cosmology, this tea is truly celestial. This tea was first cultivated in that famous tea heartland, Fujian.
Legend has it that a poor farmer ruminated on the sad conditions a temple devoted to the goddess of mercy and compassion, Kuan Yin, had fallen into. One day he swept the temple and lit incense in offering to the benevolent goddess. That night, Kuan Yin prophetically appeared to the farmer in his dreams. She told him an incredible treasure was waiting for him nestled behind the goddess's temple. When the farmer went to find this treasure, he found a tea plant, which he named after the iron statue of the goddess within the temple's shrine.
True or not, this tea has an incredible means of production, being exposed to high heat, like Sun Wukong in Lao Tzu's crucible, they are then rolled and dried, wrapped in cloth into big bundles and allowed to marinate in their liquor. This unique process is what imbues Ti Kuan Yin with a dried fruit aroma and a tangy, roasted grain flavour, and a smooth, one might say merciful, finish. So thank Kuan Yin!