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Guide

Guide to Oolong Tea

Oolong tea enchants its diverse flavours, deep-rooted history, and potential health advantages, making it a tea that deserves exploration and admiration.

Oolong is a semi-oxidised tea, made from the leaves of the tea plant (camellia sinensis). Like most tea, it originated in China, but has spread to several other countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and even New Zealand in its recent history.

The name oolong comes from the Chinese name, wūlóng, which translates as ‘dark dragon’. It likely emerged sometime between the 7th and 10th centuries in China, although its exact origins are unclear. 

Oolong is easily the most diverse tea category, encompassing many, many different types; it would be almost impossible to list them all in their entirety as there are hundreds of types, variations and cultivars. We offer a selection of some of our absolute favourites here at The Tea Makers of London.

Whether you prefer green or black tea, there is an oolong variety to suit every taste preference.

Oolong tea enchants its diverse flavours, deep-rooted history, and potential health advantages, making it a tea that deserves exploration and admiration.

 

What makes Oolong unique?

 

The primary difference between oolong and other teas is oxidation.

After the tea leaves have been plucked from the plant, they are taken to be withered. Withering is the initial process of tea processing, where freshly plucked tea leaves are spread out and exposed to air to remove excess moisture. During this process the leaves lose water and become more pliable. This starts the oxidation process, as the chlorophyll enzymes in the leaf break down, and moisture inside the leaf evaporates.

The next step is oxidation. Oxidation is a natural chemical reaction that occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaves come into contact with the oxygen in the air. This reaction leads to changes in the chemical composition of the tea leaves and ultimately affects the flavour, aroma, and colour of the final product. In order for this to take place during oolong tea manufacture, the cells need to be ruptured by bruising or adding pressure to the now withered tea leaf. They are then bruised in a rotating chamber to further breakdown cell walls and release flavour.

Based on the desired flavour, aroma, and colour of the tea, artisans determine the required level of oxidation and apply heat to stop the process when needed.

Heat is then applied to stop the oxidation . 

On a scale of oxidation, oolong teas sit between black and green tea. Exactly how oxidised an oolong tea is varies from type to type. Our Tie Guan Yin, for example, is a lightly oxidised oolong and is somewhat similar to a green tea, but with more complexity and depth, whereas our Oriental Beauty Oolong is heavily oxidised and so bears more resemblance in taste and colour to a black tea.

Firing and roasting are essential processes in oolong tea production. They preserve the tea's partially oxidized state and contribute to its characteristic flavours, which range from floral and fruity to toasty and caramelized. These processes also mellow out any bitterness and release aromatic compounds. The level of roasting can vary, impacting the tea's aroma and flavour profiles.

 

Where does it come from?

Oolong is mainly grown in China and Taiwan.

In China it is mainly produced in 3 main locations; the Wuyi Mountains and Anxi County, both of which are in the Fujian Province, and the Guandong Province.

The Fujian province is mostly mountainous, covered in forests and with an extensive coastline facing various seas. The province boasts a subtropical climate with mild winters, ideal for growing tea. The Wuyi Mountain range is situated close the border of the Jiangxi Province. Filled with dramatic scenery, picturesque river valleys and rare and endemic plants, this unique ecosystem produces many of China’s finest teas, including many of its oolongs. Anxi County is roughly 220 miles south, near the coastline and the port city of Quanzhou. Anxi County is known for its fine oolong, particularly its Tie Guan Yin, one of the most iconic oolongs. 

Guangdong is coastal, situated near Hong Kong, and is China's 3rd most populous province, known for its Phoenix Oolongs. 

Teas have been grown on Taiwan since the 1700s. Taiwan is a small island but is mostly mountainous with a subtropical climate, ideal for growing tea. Many of the world’s best oolongs come from Taiwan, which has hugely expanded its offering and output in recent decades. Much of the tea is grown in central-Taiwan, the most mountainous region, including our Four Seasons Oolong and our Ali Shan Oolong.

 

The role altitude plays in Oolong production

Higher quality teas are often grown at higher altitudes. This is because the colder weather and decreased exposure to sunlight due to mist and fog cause the plant to increase its chlorophyll , leading to increased levels of amino acids which improve the flavour quality.

Most of our oolongs are grown at higher elevations, and reflect this in their quality and taste.

 

Health benefits of Oolong

  1. Full of antioxidants

As a product of the Camellia Sinensis plant, oolong contains lots of healthy natural compounds. It is high in tea polyphenols, which are antioxidants associated with a range of health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties

  1. Brain boosting 

Like black tea and green tea, oolong is made from the Camellia Sinensis plant, and so contains caffeine, which makes it a great choice for slow mornings when you need a bit of a pick me up, but with a gentler release compared to coffee or energy drinks, so you can enjoy in the afternoon as well. Studies have also shown links between high levels of tea consumption with a lower risk of cognitive decline and lower rates of depression.

  1. Weight loss

A Chinese study found consumption of oolong tea was linked to weight loss in overweight adult participants.

While in the UK we may associate drinking tea with breakfast and biscuits, in China tea, particularly oolong, is drank throughout the day and alongside meals. Oolong is very low-calorie and many types have a natural sweetness, making it a great substitute for sugary, high-calorie drinks and ideal for helping weight loss.

     4. Skincare

study examined the benefits of oolong on atopic dermatitis and found that when combined with medical treatment symptoms improved.

Oolong also contains Vitamin C, which is known for its beneficial impact on maintaining healthy skin.

 

Best Oolongs for green tea drinkers?

 

For green tea drinkers, there are several oolongs that will suit your partiality for lighter, brisker brews.

Our Four Seasons Oolong is a wonderful introduction into the world of oolongs. It is a high mountain oolong and comes from the high peaks of central Taiwan. It is a lightly oxidised tea but enjoys complexity. The leaves are rolled up into tight pellets, which will unfurl once rehydrated.

Our Ali Shan is another Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong. Grown in the Alishan area of Chiayi County in southwestern Taiwan. The county itself is relatively low-lying, but the elevation gradually increases with Alishan being roughly 2000m above sea level and is noted as an area of natural beauty.

As an alternative to Taiwanese oolongs, our Tie Guan Yin is a Chinese icon. This tea emerged in the 19th century and hails from the Anxi County, Fujian Province, China and is also known in English as Iron Goddess of Mercy or Iron Buddha. The plucked, withered and oxidised tea leaves are wrapped in cloth and tightly rolled and kneaded to form tightly knotted pellets, which unfurl when hot water is added and reveal their beautiful leaves. 

Best Oolongs for black tea drinkers?

For black tea lovers, we recommend the more heavily oxidised oolongs.

Our Royal Blend is truly an ode to our heritage, combining Sri Lankan Silver Tips (a type of white tea made from fresh, unopened buds) with smooth and sweet Chinese oolong, rose buds and raspberry to create a luxurious blend. This tea was created to commemorate Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, but this tea was so delicious it simply had to stay in our range. This tea is flavoursome, sweet and light, and is a great oolong to try for newcomers.

Another show-stopping oolong is our Oriental Beauty. Known in Chinese as Dongfeng meiren, which translates as ‘eastern beauty’, this Taiwanese oolong has a particularly intriguing secret behind its mellow, honey-like sweetness, grasshoppers! 

Tiny grasshoppers and tea jassids nibble on the tea plant, triggering an early oxidation process while the leaves are still unplucked and causing the plant to release defensive chemicals, which result in a delicious natural sweetness. This process is overseen by experienced tea workers, as allowing the insects to consume too much of the leaf will cause it to become overly bitter (if there's any leaf !)

Simply put, there are dozens of reasons to drink oolong tea, from the range of taste profiles, the potential health benefits, or the joy of a new cultural experience. You are sure to find one you like from amongst our selection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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