Oolong teas are quickly becoming one of the nation's favourite whole-leaf teas; and frankly it is about time. Oolong teas involve a more complex processing method than most types, which produces a complex array of types and flavours which can truly exemplify the very best qualities that tea has to offer.
Most of the authentic Oolong tea varieties hail from either the Wuyi Mountains or Anxi Country growing regions in Fujian, China. For the most part, this region produces Oolongs that are organically farmed, although non-organic varieties are available.
Oolong teas are often referred to as half-fermented as they are heated to begin the oxidisation process in the same ways as black teas; but the process is quickly halted so that the leaves do not fully oxidise. This makes Oolong taste and feel like something in between black tea and green tea and because of this can display many of the characteristics of either, or both. This allows an incredible number of possible flavour profiles and so Oolongs tend to be very varied.
This complexity and variety have ensured that Oolongs are at the very forefront of the recent resurgence in popularity of authentic tea types in the West and include some of the rarest (and most expensive) types of tea available to buy; famously Da Hong Pao Oolong which is available from our store.
Oolong teas are most commonly produced in the Wuji Mountain and Anxi County regions in Fujian, China; to a lesser extent in Guangdong, China and famously in high-altitude regions on the island of Taiwan.
The most famous production area is probably the Wuji region. It is here that most of the most famous and expensive Oolong types are produced in including Da Hong Pao Oolong which is considered the most expensive teas in the world. This area also primarily employs organic farming techniques so for the most part, teas from this area are certified organic.
Also prolific, but perhaps less well-known is the Anxi Country production. Whilst this may the case in general, the hugely popular Oolong Iron Goddess of Mercy hails from this region. It is currently believed that the process for producing Oolong teas could have originated in either Wuyi or Anxi, but almost certainly from the Fujian region.
Taiwan is also well known for its Oolong varietals. Due to the size of the country, Oolong is not said to be the province of once specific area, but it is commonly grown in high-altitude areas which usually result in a sweeter leaf.
The tea cultivation methods employed to grow and harvest leaves for use in Oolong processing are very similar to those for other tea types. Mature leaves are harvested by hand which allows for only fully ready leaves to be picked
Once picked, the leaves are withered and then bruised by either rolling or curling to shape and assist oxidisation. This oxidation process is halted much earlier than with black teas which are allowed to fully oxidise). This is why Oolong teas are referred to as "half-fermented"
Heat is then applied and final shaping occurs in the form of curling or twisting to achieve the familiar profile associated with Oolong teas.
Finally a last frying is applied to fix the leaf shape and remove all of the remaining water from the leaves. Once finished, the Oolong is ready to drink.
Oolong teas can usually be identified quite easily by leaf shape. Most commonly Oolong leaves are rolled and curled in to tight tubes; but it is also quite usual for the leaves to be wrapped into small balls, usually quite loosely and with a noticeable "tail"
Oolongs are also notable for having strong aromas both dry and wet, although the variety is very wide depending on the flavour profile of the tea
Oolongs are notable for featuring many of the characteristics often found in both black and green teas. This means that teas can range from woody and roasted to sweet and honey to fresh and herbaceous.
Many types are said to improve with flavour when the leaves are stepped multiple times as they develop with each steeping.
As you would expect, we spend a lot of time ensuring that our range features the finest and most drinkable Oolong teas.
When selecting an Oolong we use several benchmarks to ensure that the dried samples meet our standards: the colour and shape of the leaves should be those "classically" associated with Oolong and the dried leaf bouquet should be vibrant and aromatic.
Once steeped, we will spend a lot of time assessing its character and taste profile as a standalone and also in comparison to other teas in our range. As Oolongs can be varied we will identify the specific profile of the tea and identify the colour and clarity of the finished to determine if of sufficiently high quality.
Finally, we will re-brew the leaves to understand whether the flavours develop positively with further steepings and also evaluate the steeped leaves themselves and find whether the leaves have opened and to what degree, and what impact this will have on brewing and straining.