Despite being cultivated in four distinct regions, Oolong tea plants thrive within a relatively small territory. While these regions have a long history of tea cultivation, the intricate production techniques of Oolong tea were developed only in the 16th and 17th centuries. Each region produces Oolongs that exhibit unique characteristics, resulting from specific processing methods. However, all Oolong teas share a common production principle. In the following sections, we will delve into the production techniques and explore notable examples from each region.
Types of Oolong Tea Based on Regions
North Fujian Oolongs
North Fujian Oolongs are a type of tea that are also known by several other names such as Wuyi Oolongs, Rock Oolongs, and Yancha, among others. The tea leaves produced in this region are very similar in flavor and are processed using the same technique. The most common name for these teas is Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe. This name refers both to the tea type and to the brand of tea originating from this region. While every tea from the Wuyi Mountains may be sold as Da Hong Pao, specialized tea shops that are committed to Chinese tea culture differentiate between different types of tea from this region.
North Fujian Oolongs are believed to be the ancestors of all Oolongs. The production of this tea type involves a flush of good quality tea leaves in the middle of May, followed by several weeks of production and roasting. The leaves are twisted a little but retain the shape of a “ribbon.” The tea leaves are large, dark brown, or even black in color. Once brewed, the tea has a cognac color, strong taste, and most often has a floral scent.
The brew of North Fujian Oolongs has a color and strength that is similar to European black tea. Wuyishan, the region where this tea is produced, was one of the first regions to actively trade tea with Europe. The North Fujian teas began the Europeans’ acquaintance with “dark” tea. The Chinese believe that the name of the entire category of black teas was derived from Oolongs, which translates to “black dragon” in Chinese. As a result, the merchants began to shorten the names of all dark teas to “black.”
In conclusion, North Fujian Oolongs are a unique tea type with a long history and an interesting story. The tea leaves produced in this region are processed with care and expertise, resulting in a distinct flavor that is cherished by tea lovers all over the world.
South Fujian Oolongs
South Fujian, a beautiful region in China, is home to a wide variety of Oolong teas. Among them, the famous Tie Guan Yin stands out for its unique characteristics. The name of this tea translates to “Iron Bodhisattva Guan Yin” or “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” which hints at the tea’s distinctive heavy and harsh leaves. Tie Guan Yin is known for its loose ball-shaped leaves that are easy to recognize.
Tie Guan Yin is produced using a traditional tea processing method that involves tightly rolling the leaves into balls. Despite the rolling, the leaves retain their inherent harshness and are known to be the least firm of all the Oolongs. Traditionally, Tie Guan Yin was heavily roasted, resulting in a dark brew with a deep, velvety taste. However, in recent years, the trend has shifted towards lightly roasting the leaves, which preserves the astringency of the green tea while giving it a bright floral aroma. As a result, both traditional and lightly roasted Tie Guan Yin can be found in the market.
With so many processing methods and varieties available, Tie Guan Yin is produced in abundance in South Fujian, making it challenging to distinguish between different types. Regular traders sell the tea under the general brand name of “Tie Guan Yin,” while specialized shops provide detailed information on the tea’s processing and unique features.
In conclusion, South Fujian’s Tie Guan Yin Oolong is a flavorful tea with a rich history and unique characteristics. Whether you prefer the traditional dark brew or the lighter, floral-infused version, Tie Guan Yin is a must-try for any tea enthusiast.
Guangdong Province is home to a unique type of Oolong tea called Lonely Bushes from the Mountain of Phoenix. This tea has been renowned since the ancient times of the Song Dynasty (10-13th century). The tea leaves from this area are highly aromatic, with at least 10 different distinguished aromas. Therefore, each Lonely Bushes tea should come with an indication of its aroma. During production, the tea leaves are twisted and retained in the form of a “ribbon”. The roasting process is light, which results in a tea with a bright aroma and astringent taste.
There is a frequent claim that this tea is “hallucinogenic,” which originated from the way the tea is prepared in the municipal area of Chaozhou in Guangdong Province. The traditional “Chaozhou ceremony” involves stuffing the teapot with as much tea as possible, pouring boiling water over it, and leaving it to brew. The resulting tea is extremely astringent, which gives a sweet aftertaste, along with wild aroma, providing a strong, bright, and wonderful taste impression. However, some people over-brew the tea and drink too much without preparing their bodies for such a strain, which can occasionally lead to poisoning and hallucinations.
It is important to note that any tea can be harmful if over-brewed. Proper preparation and consumption of Lonely Bushes tea should not cause any adverse effects. However, it requires enormous effort to produce this tea, and therefore, it is considered a precious commodity.
Taiwan’s tea history began in the late 17th to 18th century when Oolong bushes were imported from Fujian, but it was not until the early 19th century that the production of Oolongs began. These teas were found to thrive in Taiwan’s mountainous terrain, with the higher elevations yielding tastier and more fragrant teas. In time, Oolong production became the brand identity of Formosa, and Taiwan inherited two ways of Oolong processing – North Fujian in the form of a “ribbon” and South Fujian rolled into balls.
The most common type of Taiwan Oolong that you’ll encounter is lightly roasted and rolled into tight balls. This tea won over America and Europe and is often confused with green teas for their similar tastes. However, fine Oolongs offer more shades of taste, with a much more versatile and deep aroma, and they last for more steepings.
Taiwan Oolongs come from various mountain ranges, peaks, rocks, and canyons. It has become customary to name the tea after the name of the main mountain range, for example, Alishan tea, although the Alishan mountain range spans thousands of kilometers. Thus, flavors of such tea may vary in different locations and in different years.
Taiwan Oolongs come in various grades, from the cheapest to the most expensive. The best teas are picked in small quantities from bushes that are more than thirty years old. The tea processing procedure is meticulous, involving withering, bruising, and gentle oxidation. The leaves are then roasted or baked to create the desired flavors and aroma.
Oolongs from Taiwan have their unique characteristics and subtle differences. For example, Dong Ding Oolong has a strong and earthy aroma with a honey-like taste, while Lishan Oolong has a floral fragrance with a refreshing, sweet taste. Another type of Oolong, Bai Hao Oolong, has a unique aroma of ripe fruits with a honey-like taste.
In summary, Taiwan Oolongs are a unique experience that offers a range of tastes and aromas to explore. From the lightly roasted to the deeply fragrant, Taiwan Oolongs are a journey into the senses and flavors of Formosa.
Five Famous Types of Oolong Tea in the World
If you’re an oolong tea enthusiast or just looking to explore different types of tea, these five famous types of oolong tea are a must-try. Each one has its unique flavor, aroma, and history, originating from different regions around the world.
Phoenix Tea (Dan Cong)
Phoenix oolong tea is one of the best-selling oolong tea, produced in Guangdong Province, southern China. This tea comes from the Phoenix mountains in Guangdong, China, and is known for its natural flavors and aroma, which is full-bodied, rich, and fragrant.
Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
If you’re unsure which oolong tea to try first, Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin) oolong tea is an excellent starting point. This tea is grown in the mountainous region of Fujian Province, China, and its name derives from the laborious processing method, which includes up to 60 hours of slow roast. Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea is floral, light, and airy, often compared to an orchid.
Wuyi Oolong Tea (Da Hong Pao)
Wuyi oolong tea is known as the “dark” oolong tea, with a sharp, smoky, and deep flavor. It originates from Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China, and has a high oxidation level and mineral components, which make it one of the most expensive teas in the world.
High Mountain Oolong Tea (Gaoshan)
This tea comes from the mountainous region of central Taiwan, and its name, High Mountain Oolong Tea, refers to the altitude at which it’s grown. This tea is generally lightly oxidized, making it closer to green tea than black tea. The processing method creates a light, crisp, and floral taste.
Milk Oolong Tea (Jin Xuan Tea)
Milk oolong tea is a unique type of oolong tea that tastes creamy and sweet, and it’s grown at a lower altitude and harvested in Spring. This tea is naturally milky, creamy, and buttery, without any added milk. If you’re looking for something unique, milk oolong tea is the perfect choice.