Wulong is the original term for semi-oxidised teas and the translation from the original Chinese means “black dragon”. Subsequently, the word Oolong has taken over from Wulong to become the most commonly used spelling in the west. Oolong teas are often described as being somewhere between black and green teas.
Oolongs are created by initiating the process of oxidation in a very controlled way by bruising the leaves (often repeatedly) to cause some cellular damage and then stopping the process through heating or “fixing” the leaves which prevents them from fully oxidising at a chosen point in the process. Shaping and final drying lead to many different variations of Oolong teas. Usually, the leaves used to create Oolong teas are older and a bit tougher than the tender leaves and bud used for other teas. This is because they need to be able to withstand the intense and prolonged processing.
The lightest or “greener” oolongs may only be oxidised to between 5-10% whereas the darker oolongs can be oxidised up to 90%. Traditionally, there are two basic styles of Oolong, a rounded, part-ball shape that results from kneading in a cloth or longer, wiry leaves that are twisted lengthways rather than rolled into a ball. Oolongs are often dried or “roasted” several times which adds to the complexity of flavours.
Growing elevation and also cultivars are important in the production of oolongs and some of the most famous Taiwanese oolongs are sold under the name of the cultivar used in production. Oolongs are an exciting and extremely varied group of teas that are well worth exploring!
Oolong or Wu long is a tricky tea to make as it is only partially oxidised (semi-fermented) and when made by hand it takes a great deal of care to only partially bruise the tea leaves and to bring out the best flavours. There is lots of Oolong on the market to choose from - and the flavours are exciting to drink (very diverse range and depth of flavour - just look at the colours of the Oolongs above), it is one of the fastest growing categories of speciality loose leaf tea, with many premium brands and small nice plantations selling high grade Oolong direct. There is much talk of the health benefits of Oolong tea, it contains less anti-oxidant polyphenols than green tea but research shows other benefits and it is quite easy to brew, lacking the astringency of traditional green teas, which makes it a popular choice.
My choices of Oolong for you to buy can be found in a 'tea taster set' which allows you to explore the quality teas that i have picked - each of these can be steeped 2-3 times. The explorer pack makes a wonderful gift for someone who enjoys trying new teas, or who already loves Oolongs.
I could not resist stocking and selling ginseng oolong which looks a bit like moon rock when you open the packet. This oolong is coated with ginseng and liquorice, the first brew has all the sweetness of liquorice but the second brew yields a toasty brew with a hint of smokiness.
The sunburst China Oolong has a delicate pale liquor whereas the Formosa oolong is a much richer brew.
All the teas are sold in air tight bags for freshness - you can move to a tea caddy at home. We recommend a stainless steel tea infuser so that the flavours do not carry when making different brews. Oolong is one of the teas i like to buy the most - i hope you enjoy drinking it, once you have bought it and tried it, please let me know by reviewing it!