The Sophisticated Oolong Family
A starter’s guide into this aromatic tea type
Tea art depicted by the 4 classes of oolong teas
Oolong (aka wulong) is a sophisticated class in the big tea family. Its oxidation level can run anywhere from as low as close to green tea and as high as close to black tea. As its oxidation level can vary quite a bit, the appearance, taste and characteristics of one oolong tea can vary significantly from another.
Oolong teas are largely grown in the following three areas: Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan. Oolong teas are in general split into four big classes based on their growth regions and they are:
- Taiwan oolong,
- South Fujian oolong,
- North Fujian oolong, and
- Guangdong oolong.
The following map of China shows the geographical locations of the above regions.
Here are some common questions often raised regarding oolong teas:
(1) How many types of oolong teas are there?
Belonging to the North Fujian oolong, Wuyi (aka rock) oolong teas alone have over 800 varieties. For Phoenix Dancong of Guangdong oolong, there are about 80 varieties. Having said that, only a few dozen varieties are available on the market as the majority of them are produced in very small quantities for tea planters’ self-consumption or for further plantation before the possibilities of mass production.
(2) Why oolong teas come in with and without stem types?
This is a processing difference between the two, which will ultimately affect the taste, smell and weight of the finished product. In general, Taiwan oolong teas tend to keep the stem in the finished tea. Look for that in your Taiwan oolong teas next time.
(3) How do you shape Lishan oolong and Tie Guanyin into rounded shapes?
Tea leaves are put in a cloth bag and are tightly wrapped. The bundle is repeatedly rolled and pressed to form the tea leaves into a rounded shape with a little leg or tail. The primary reason for this process is to facilitate storage and transportation.
(4) What are the key differences between North Fujian oolong and South Fujian oolong teas?
There are two main differences: shape and oxidation. Dry leaves of North Fujian oolongs are in general twisted in strips rather than curled into a rounded shape like South Fujian oolongs. North Fujian oolongs undergo further rounds of slow roasting after the drying process, which results in higher oxidation of the finished teas. The difference in oxidation between the two classes result in tremendous difference in the appearance of the dry leaves, the liquor colour and aromatic profile.
Take a further glance at the steeped leaves.
Getting started with oolong teas
If you are looking for a high floral fragrance oolong, you can try Tie Guanyin (aka Iron Goddess). If you opt for a smooth and light to medium-bodied oolong, try Lishan High Mountain or other similar high mountain teas from Taiwan. If you want both fruity and floral with a medium body, go for Phoenix Dancong and explore a few varieties of them. Last but not least, Wuyi oolong, the full bodied, richly roasted tea will satisfy a mature tea drinker or a coffee lover.
The discussion above gives an overview of the oolong family. Where there is a rule, there is always an exception and it is definitely the case for tea. Therefore, you will definitely find exceptions to our discussion above and we look forward to hear your experiences of the sophisticated yet aromatic oolong tea family.
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