Most people who come into our shop know the difference between black and green tea. Many know about herbals. Some have even heard of white tea before. But the oolong shelf remains an obscure and uncharted territory for most. It sounds strange and foreign, and not in a welcoming, touristy way.
I assure you, oolong teas are not particularly strange or frightening. They are halfway between a green and black tea. The difference between black teas and green teas is that black teas are oxidized, while green teas are not. Oxidation is a process of allowing the leaves to partially break down before drying them. It changes the flavor from the bright, grassy taste of a green tea to the more bitter, complex flavor of a black tea. Many black teas are oxidized by simply allowing them to wilt before drying them. Oolongs, however, require much more precision than that. The leaves are usually carefully rolled and twisted, usually by hand, in order to intentionally damage the leaf, much like the process of massaging kale. Oolong teas can be anywhere from 8% to 85% oxidized, but because each variety is oxidized a very specific amount, oolong tea takes much more precision and attention to process than most other kinds of tea. (The exception here might be Pu’ehr) After they are properly oxidized, they are baked, or roasted. This gives oolong a subtle, but unique flavor, as no other type of tea is traditionally roasted.
Oolong teas are grown in South China. The Wuyi Rock region is an oolong hub. This area where our own Wuyi Rock Oolong is grown, alongside a variety of other oolongs, as well as Lapsang Souchong. It also looks like this:
The name oolong is an Americanized version of the various Chinese pronunciations. It is possible that the name came from “black dragon tea”, because the twisted leaves resemble dragon tails. However, it is also entirely possible that the tea is simply named after the man who invented it.
Oolong teas are the type of tea which is traditionally used in the Gong Fu ceremony. This ceremony is also called the Kung Fu ceremony, which would be excellent to mention if you intended to try to get your 8 year old nephew interested in tea. This is partially because oolong teas simply tend to be of a particularly high quality, and partially because both the ceremony and the tea are native to southern China. The Gong Fu ceremony is particularly ancient, and translates to “making tea with skill”. Doing the ceremony properly is an art which certain masters study for years, but the basic process is not particularly complicated. If you have ever seen someone make tea over a wooden box, especially if there is a small rock statue on the box, it is the Gong Fu ceremony.
Looking for a break from your usual tea? Get adventurous. Try an oolong.