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Oolong ( //; simplified Chinese: 乌龙; traditional Chinese: 烏龍) is a traditional semi-oxidized Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a process including withering the plant under strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. Most oolong teas, especially those of fine quality, involve unique tea plant cultivars that are exclusively used for particular varieties. The degree of oxidation, which varies according to the chosen duration of time before firing, can range from 8–85%, depending on the variety and production style. Oolong is especially popular in south China and among Chinese expatriates in Southeast Asia, as is the Fujian preparation process known as the Gongfu tea ceremony.
"Oolong" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
|Literal meaning||"Black dragon tea"|
Different styles of oolong tea can vary widely in flavor. They can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, or woody and thick with roasted aromas, or green and fresh with complex aromas, all depending on the horticulture and style of production. Several types of oolong tea, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian, such as Da Hong Pao, are among the most famous Chinese teas. Different varieties of oolong are processed differently, but the leaves are usually formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves, while others are 'wrap-curled' into small beads, each with a tail. The former style is the more traditional.
The name oolong tea came into the English language from the Chinese name (simplified Chinese: 乌龙茶; traditional Chinese: 烏龍茶; pinyin: wūlóng chá), meaning "black dragon tea", in which the meaning black is generalized from crow/raven (烏), i.e. "black as a crow". In Chinese, oolong teas are also known as qingcha (Chinese: 青茶; pinyin: qīngchá) or "dark green teas".
The manufacture of oolong tea involves repeating stages to achieve the desired amount of bruising and browning of leaves. Withering, rolling, shaping, and firing are similar to black tea, but much more attention to timing and temperature is necessary.
The exact origin of the term is impossible to state with certainty. There are three widely espoused explanations of the origin of the Chinese name. According to the "tribute tea" theory, oolong tea came directly from Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake tribute tea. The term oolong tea replaced the old term when loose tea came into fashion. Since it was dark, long, and curly, it was called Black Dragon tea.
According to the "Wuyi" theory, oolong tea first existed in the Wuyi Mountains region. This is evidenced by Qing-dynasty poems such as Wuyi Tea Song (Wuyi Chage) and Tea Tale (Chashuo). It was said that oolong tea was named after the part of the Wuyi Mountain where it was originally produced.
Another tale tells of a man named Wu Liang (later corrupted to Wu Long, or Oolong) who discovered oolong tea by accident when he was distracted by a deer after a hard day's tea-picking, and by the time he remembered to return to the tea it had already started to oxidize.
The most famous and expensive oolong teas are made here, and the production is still usually accredited as being organic. Some of the better known cliff teas are:
- Da Hong Pao ("Big Red Robe"): a highly prized tea and a Si Da Ming Cong tea. This tea is also one of the two oolong varieties classed as Chinese famous teas.
- Shui Jin Gui ("Golden Water Turtle"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea.
- Tieluohan ("Iron Arhat"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea.
- Bai Jiguan ("White Cockscomb"): a Si Da Ming Cong tea. A light tea with light, yellowish leaves.
- Rougui ("Cassia"): a dark tea with a spicy aroma.
- Shui Xian ("Narcissus"): a very dark tea. Much of it is grown elsewhere in Fujian.
- Tieguanyin ("Iron Goddess of Mercy"): a China Famous Tea.
- Huangjin Gui ("Golden Cassia" or "Golden Osmanthus"): similar to Tieguanyin, with a very fragrant flavor.
- Single Bush Dancong (单枞) ("Phoenix oolong")
- A family of strip-style oolong teas from Guangdong Province. Dancong teas are noted for their ability to naturally imitate the flavors and fragrances of various flowers and fruits, such as orange blossom, orchid, grapefruit, almond, ginger flower, etc.
The term dancong originally meant phoenix teas all picked from one tree. In recent times though it has become a generic term for all Phoenix Mountain oolongs. True dancongs are still produced, but are not common outside China.
Tea cultivation in Taiwan began in the 18th century. Since then, many of the teas which are grown in Fujian province have also been grown in Taiwan. Since the 1970s, the tea industry in Taiwan has expanded at a rapid rate, in line with the rest of the economy. Due to high domestic demand and a strong tea culture, most Taiwanese tea is bought and consumed in Taiwan.
As the weather in Taiwan is highly variable, tea quality may differ from season to season. Although the island is not particularly large, it is geographically varied, with high, steep mountains rising abruptly from low-lying coastal plains. The different weather patterns, temperatures, altitudes, and soil ultimately result in differences in appearance, aroma, and flavour of the tea grown in Taiwan. In some mountainous areas, teas have been cultivated at ever higher elevations to produce a unique sweet taste that fetches a premium price.
- Dongding ("Frozen Summit" or "Ice Peak"): Named after the mountain in Nantou County, Central Taiwan, where it is grown. This is a tightly rolled tea with a light, distinctive fragrance.
- Dongfang Meiren ("Oriental Beauty"): This tea is tippy (the leaves frequently have white or golden tips), with natural fruity aromas, a bright red appearance, and a sweet taste.
- Alishan oolong: Grown in the Alishan area of Chiayi County, this tea has large rolled leaves that have a purple-green appearance when dry. It is grown at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,400 metres. There is only a short period during the growing season when the sun is strong, which results in a sweeter and less astringent brew. It produces golden yellow tea with a unique fruity aroma.
- Lishan (梨山) oolong: Grown near Lishan mountain in the north-central region of Taiwan, this tea is very similar in appearance to Alishan teas. It is grown at an elevation above 1,000 metres, with Dayuling, Lishan, and Fusou being the best known regions and teas of Lishan. It is often grown on the extremely rare Taiwanese Mango, a sub-species of the tropical mango tree. Its thin, sturdy branches support the tea vines well and provide good sun exposure.
- Pouchong: the lightest and most floral oolong, with unrolled leaves of a light green to brown color. Originally grown in Fujian, it is now also widely cultivated and produced in Pinglin Township near Taipei.
- Ruan Zhi: a light variety of oolong tea. The tea is also known as Qingxin and as # 17. It originates from Anxi in Fujian province.
- Jin Xuan: a variety of oolong tea developed in 1980. The tea is also known as "Milk Oolong" (Nai Xiang) because of its creamy, smooth, and easy taste. Traditional milk oolong tea does not contain milk. It originates from Taiwan.
- Black Oolong: may refer to a dark roasted oolong. This will have a roasted flavor similar to dark roast coffee.
- High-mountain or gaoshan: refers to several varieties of oolong tea grown in the mountains of central Taiwan. Includes varieties such as Alishan, Wu She, Li Shan and Yu Shan.
- Tieguanyin: Muzha Tea Co. brought the tea from Anxi County and developed Taiwan's own variation of the popular tea on the hills of Muzha area near Taipei. While the techniques they used were similar to Anxi tieguanyin, the tastes have evolved during over a century of development.
Recommended brewing techniques for oolong tea vary widely. One common method is to use a small steeping vessel, such as a gaiwan or Yixing clay teapot, with a higher than usual leaf to water ratio. Such vessels are used in the gongfu method of tea preparation, which involves multiple short steepings. For a single infusion, 1 to 5 minute steepings are recommended, depending on personal preference. Recommended water temperature ranges from 180 to 205F.
Some semi-fermented oolong teas contain acylated flavonoid tetraglycosides, named teaghrelins due to their ability to bind to ghrelin receptors. Teaghrelins were isolated from Chin-shin oolong tea and Shy‐jih‐chuen oolong tea and recently from other oolong tea varieties.
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