Longing for an Oolong

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Oolongs are an interesting breed of tea.

Many tea drinkers have only heard of “Black” tea, “Green” tea, and herbals, as that is simply what is stocked most commonly on the supermarket shelves. But there’s another extremely viable, extremely delicious form of tea that everyone should appreciate at least once in their lives: oolong tea.

Oolong teas are a vibrant in-between of green tea and black tea, offering qualities of both but never reaching either’s extremes. The reasoning for this lies in the process used to create oolong teas.

When the camellia sinensis (tea) leaves are picked off the bush, they are subjected to a process that gradually (or sometimes very rapidly) increases the oxidation levels in the leaves. Green tea is usually described as unoxidised or very lightly oxidised; typically the levels are very low or non-existent. Black tea, on the other hand, has been fully oxidised, which gives it its blackened colour and fuller taste.

So where does this leave oolong tea?

Oolong tea is right in the middle of green tea and black tea on the oxidation chart. It encompasses a wide range of oxidation percentages and can have more characteristics of green tea, or more characteristics of black tea, as a result. Typically, increasing the oxidation level of a tea will lower its catechin count and increase its caffeine levels.

Taiwan and China are especially famous for their oolong teas, and produce a large range for consumers to pick through. Some are among the most highly revered teas in the world.

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White on White

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During the Song Dynasty in China an Emperor named Hui Zhong said that white tea was the coming together of all that is elegant.

White teas are the first flush pick of the spring; their liquor is fresh, slightly sweet and very subtle.

Once reserved for the privileged elite, white teas are recognisable by their luminous, straw-coloured liquor.

Traditionally they come from China’s Fujian Province. It was here that the style of tea has developed into what it is today.

There is a growing movement of tea drinkers who favour delicate white tea and it is now produced in other areas of China as well as in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other nations.

You may wonder why white tea is considered so special. It is because its harvest season is so short – just a few days. The leaves are handpicked from and then closely processed with extra time and care. For this reason, there’s only a tiny amount of white tea produced in the world. Enjoy every sip!

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The Big Red Robe

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Although oolong tea may not immediately be thought of as blue in colour, in China the humble oolong is a drink commonly referred to as “blue tea”, thanks to its (often, not always) tinged-blue colour. Due to an oxidation process that leaves them anywhere between 10 – 70% oxidised, their flavours are much less delicate than green and white teas, and it is possible for them to give off a roasted note.

Da Hong Pao, or “Big Red Robe” as it is known in many western countries, is an extremely famous Wu Yi rock tea which is renowned for its rich flavours. The tea’s history goes back to the Ming Dynasty, where supposedly its leaves cured an emperor’s mother from serious illness. In recognition of its apparent healing powers, the emperor ordered that the bush from whence the leaves came to be clothed in big red robes, thus giving it its name. It also sometimes goes by “Scarlet Robe”, however this is less common.

The leaves are very twisted-looking and brown in colour, which is uncommon among many oolongs. Floral notes adorn its beautiful, rich flavours.

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The Iron Goddess of Mercy

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You may be wondering which type of tea is featured above; it is in fact a very famous tea known as Tieguanyin, or more commonly as Iron Goddess of Mercy. It is one of a number of teas not classified as white, black, green or puerh; instead, it is known as an oolong (wūlóng) or blue tea. The name “blue” comes not from the overarching colour of the leaves or liquor, but instead the very subtle shades of blue that many beautiful oolong tea loose leaves display.

Iron Goddess itself is a fragrant, half-fermented Taiwanese roasted tea. When properly steeped, it yields a lovely deep yellow liquor. However, it isn’t the only oolong out there; there’s quite a variety of oolong teas to satisfy your taste buds, many of them well-revered.

Some people who are unused to drinking tea will take to oolongs faster than greens and whites. This is due to an oolong tea’s oxidation level being between that of green and black tea; most oolongs retain many characteristics of green tea without being quite as bitter, and taste much more like black tea. However, this of course differs from oolong to oolong, and depends greatly on the fermentation level. Oolong teas have the greatest variation in oxidation of any tea, with the exception of puerh.

That’s all for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this first post on Teapress. Oolongs are a personal favourite tea of mine, so I thought I’d kick this blog off with one. But, there’s plenty more tea where this came from! At our home domain, www.australianteamasters.com.au, you can read a whole lot more about tea. So if you’re interested, drop by! We’d love to have you.

– Alex

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