You know the feeling. This time of year, you’re simply dying for something warm, comforting, and full of vitality. And since January is national hot tea month, there is no better time to settle in with a nice hot cup of tea.
If you’re not really convinced tea is your beverage of choice, then you haven’t tried oolong tea. Oolong tea is not quite a green tea and not quite a black tea, but processed somewhere in between. That’s why I call oolong tea the “sweet spot” of tea.
Thousands of tea estates around the world produce tea. China, Japan, Taiwan, India and Sri Lanka are the major tea producing countries. Each estate masterfully crafts a unique tea all originating from the camellia sinensis plant. It is the process for picking and drying that determines the type of tea, white, green, yellow, oolong, black or pu-erh.
Much like wine, the region in which the tea is grown and subsequently processed, gives its own distinctive flavor. Because each tea estate processes their oolong tea a little differently, there are many varieties of oolongs.
It is amazing to me how one plant can produce so many different varieties of tea.
The sweet, simple things of life are the real ones after all.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oolong Tea Defined
Oolong teas are produced in the Wuyi Mountains of the Fujian province in China. Some oolongs are produced from old growth tea trees over a thousand years old. Taiwan also produces oolong tea.
Oolongs are partially oxidized, within a range of 12 to 80 percent. Oolongs are some of the most prized teas due to their intricate processing, which provide a complex flavor that evolves with each sip. The flavor all depends on the skills of the tea maker.
Since there are so many varieties of oolong tea, I will focus here on the most revered of all oolongs, Tieguanyin from Anxi County, Quanzhou in the southern Fujian province of China.
Also commonly know as Ti Kuan Yin Oolong. It is a full leaf China oolong tea and is legendary among oolong tea lovers.
I have selected Ti Kuan Yin Oolong tea because it is also one of my favorites. Since it’s on the lighter side, it’s perfect for an afternoon or evening cup of tea. Adagio Teas has a Masters collection of high end teas and their Fujian Ti Kuan Yin is excellent.
Flavor and Scent
The Tieguanyin Oolong tea from Anxi comes with a distinguished fragrance of orchid.
Traditionally, Ti Kuan Yin Oolong tea is made in a Gaiwan. A Gaiwan consists of a porcelain tea cup with a lid and saucer.
The Gaiwan is designed to be used with green and oolong teas of delicate flavor. The tea leaves are placed directly in the cup with the lid in place for infusing the tea leaves.
The underside of the Gaiwan lid captures the aroma and is shared with guests before pouring the tea from the Gaiwan into separate porcelain tea cups.
You don’t absolutely need a Gaiwan to enjoy oolong tea. I don’t have one (I know) and simply use my lidded porcelain tea pot and 6-ounce cups.
I am still able to enjoy the incredible sweet aroma. This oolong tea is made so well, the sweet and subtle fragrance of orchid is present from dry leaf to infusion. But it does not taste perfumey at all.
I had a jasmine pearl tea one time that was so obviously artificially flavored it tasted like I was drinking straight from a bottle of perfume. Simply awful. You won’t get that with this tea.
That’s because the fragrance is the natural essence of the processed leaf. It is not artificially flavored. It needs nothing added to it – nothing. No sugar, no milk – nothing. It is to be enjoyed as is.
The lightly colored golden sweet brew is just that good.
Nice tea is a blessing by the heavens”
How Oolong Tea Is Made
Oolong teas are the most complicated teas to manufacture. The end result is the presentation of leaves rolled into little nuggets, the product of an incredible multi-step process.
After the leaves are plucked, they are left out to wither in a tray and cool down. The leaves are then “rocked” in their trays, causing the leaf cell to rupture and disperse its sweet sap within the leaf.
This action sets off the oxidation process and is the most critical step. It all depends on the synchronous adjustments and traditional experiences of the veteran tea maker. This is where the art of the craft matters.
The leaves are then bruised and tumbled in a variety of ways. Here, the red tipped edges of the bruised leaf appear. After resting for a period, the leaves go through a series of oven firing and tumbling.
I can describe to you how this oolong tea is made, but the best description is in the viewing. I found this beautiful 8-minute video that gives you a much better idea of what goes in to the making of oolong tea.
If you have a few minutes, it is definitely worth watching. The tea farmers are more than farmers, they are true artisans and craftsmen, lavishing special attention on their tea.
Go ahead and brew a cup, then sit back and watch this miracle of tea unfold. After watching you will get the undying sense of pride and purpose that exists for the tea producing people of Anxi.
Brewing Oolong Tea
Although oolong tea is very complex in processing, it is very easy to brew. Generally, use 190F water and 2 teaspoons per cup, steeping for 1-2 minutes.
Oolong tea is very forgiving in the brewing process and can be steeped several times, with each infusion imparting new flavors.
The infused tea water should be golden and crystal clear in color with a sweet orchid fragrance.
Beneficial Antioxidants in Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea. During the oxidation process (absorption of oxygen) that begins during withering, oolong tea progresses to a higher concentration of theaflavins and a low concentration of thearubigens.
Theaflavins are antioxidants produced during this oxidation process.
In a 2003 clinical trial, it was found that theaflavins reduce blood cholesterol levels, both total and LDL.
Laboratory investigations reported theaflavins act on numerous points, regulating cancer cell growth, survival, and metastasis.
- Weight Loss
A Chinese study in 1998 reported weight loss after six weeks of drinking oolong tea. The US Agricultural Research Services conducted research in 2001, finding that oolong tea increases energy levels resulting in more physical activity with subsequent weight loss.
Oolong tea has also been reported to suppress appetite.
In the above video, we are told that, “Lady Lin Mei is the grandmother of Mr. Lin, the tea farmer. She is 102 years old, which she shows no evidence of by her appearance.”
Mr. Lin says it is not uncommon in Anxi to witness senior citizens with such longevity. Lady Lin Mei’s longevity is attributed to the practice of tea-drinking in Anxi.
I think life-style may also contribute to this longevity. It appears all members of the Anxi society are active participants in the life and production of tea.
And what an incredible and rewarding life-style it must be.
The essence of Tienguanyin Tea comes from a heritage of the land combined with craftsmanship and creative ingenuity.”
It’s a remarkable story when you think about it. The production of a simple cup of tea is really not so simple. And we have the amazing opportunity to experience this tea along with the tea makers sense of place and purpose in this world.
They have a deep connection and reverence with the earth and this is shared with us in every cup.
If you enjoyed this post, please share with your tea loving friends.