After having spent many years living in Taiwan, you grow to learn a lot about one of the most prized teas of the country. Oolong. Not as critically acclaimed abroad, this tea is by far one of the most celebrated teas in Taiwan. The best place to put Oolong is somewhere between Green Tea (minimally altered leaves) and Black Tea (barely resembling a leaf).
Oolong tea is one of the most intricate and complex teas to manufacture. Unlike a green tea, which undergoes zero oxidation and black tea, which is oxidized at one hundred percent. Oolong tea falls somewhere in the middle and lies anywhere within a range of twelve to eighty percent oxidization, making the process both challenging and labour intensive. Production times of Oolong can last as long as forty hours post harvest, where elaborate methods of withering, rolling, oxidation and firing take place.
Oolong flavours are quite extravogant, and there are two main styles of leaf in Taiwan. The first are the Semiball- Rolled Style Oolongs, such as Tung Ting, High Mountain, and Tieguanyin Oolongs. These teas are made in both modern and Traditional styles of oxidation. Modern roasts of this style are becoming more popular in the West. These Oolongs are green and have larger less complicated rolled balls of tea than their traditional counterpart. . They have a substantial amount of stem, are lightly oxidized (between twenty-five to forty percent) are lightly roasted (to preserve their inner floral flavours) and range in colour from jade to forest and golden green.
Traditional Semiball- Rolled Style Oolongs are the leaf of choice for Taiwanese drinkers. Teas of this style undergo a medium level of oxidization (between thirty-five to sixty-five percent) and are roasted in the medium range to bring out their inner stone fruit and honey taste/aroma. This styled leaf, when brewed, emits beautiful tones of amber and reddish chestnut brown.
The second style of leaf found among Taiwanese Oolong tea is the Open-Leaf Style Oolong. Teas of this style are unique to Taiwan and include varieties such as Bai Hao Oriental Beauty and Baozhhong. Leaves of this style are slightly crumpled, they are medium to large in size and are not roasted. Bai Hao Oriental Beauty undergoes a medium oxidization between sixty-five to seventy-five percent, it has flavours reminiscent of apricots and chestnuts with a mellow and relaxed feel. Baozhong Oolong undergoes a light oxidization between twelve and eighteen percent and gives off pure, sweet and bright aromas with a fresh springtime feel.
After having moved back to North America I have desperately searched for something reminiscent in quality and style of the Traditional Semiball- Rolled Style Oolong. After all, the majority of this high quality tea never leaves the island (most specifically the High Mountain Oolongs). They are so highly revered, that they are spoken for by local tea houses before the harvest even begins. If you’re looking to bring rich, flavourful aromas to your cup, make sure you search out any one of these truly amazing Taiwanese Oolongs.