Today's post is an introduction to Oolongs. This particular style of tea is one of the most enjoyed types of tea consumed by tea drinkers.
Oolong tea is rooted in Fujian Province, China. A lot of the most popular Oolong teas consumed today are grown and harvested on the rocky outcroppings of Wuyi Shan or the lush hillsides of Benshan in Anxi, China.
It made its way over to Taiwan by way of Fujianese expats. With them, they brought their knowledge of tea growing, as well as seeds and cuttings to carry on with Fujianese tea tradition.
Not only is Oolong tea grown in China and Taiwan, most tea producing countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan have taken to producing them. Though, production is the only factor that really makes an oolong, terroir and the type of leaf it is, plays a large role in categorizing that particular tea and how it falls into the oolong category.
To me, Oolong teas are some of the most complicated teas to categorize. When it comes down to it, tea is separated into groups based on oxidation level. Oolongs fit into this scale as being semi-oxidized. That's not clearly defined by any means, considering green teas aren't oxidized and black teas are fully oxidized. It's easier to pinpoint where you find those types of tea on the spectrum of oxidation. Oolongs though, take up almost all of the oxidation spectrum. Despite there being a lack of a standard in oxidation levels for Oolongs, they will usually end up falling on the spectrum at 18-80%.
To reach these percentage levels, the tea must be meticulously bruised, shaped, and dried to promote oxidation. Coupled with particular variables such as varietals and cultivars, terroir, and production methods, you can get some incredibly rich and complex teas that all differ from the next.
Even though each Oolong tea ends up having a particular level of oxidation that sets it apart from other oolongs, there is still room for interpretation. Some tea producers like to experiment and push traditional tea producing boundaries.
Oolong tea production is very lengthy. One days harvesting takes at least a full day to finish. I visited a tea factory in Dong Ding Shan that was still processing the days harvest, well after midnight. The processing generally includes picking, primary withering, cool down/second withering, rattling, bruising/tumbling, shaping, and drying.
This has just been a cursory introduction to Oolong teas. In future posts we'll discuss particular countries and the types of Oolongs they produce. We'll talk about what all of these variables mean and how you can choose teas you will enjoy drinking, based on this information.