Chinese tea culture can feel intimidating at first, but it shouldn’t be. It is about experiencing and experimenting until you find what you like. Oolong tea (wūlóng 乌龙) is one of the 6 main tea categories: white, green, yellow, oolong, black, and puerrh. Oolong is partially oxidized, whereas white, green, and yellow are unoxidized and black tea is fully oxidized. Puerrh is fermented tea.
Oolong for Health
Oolong is traditionally recommended during fall. It can also be brewed year round to assist with weight loss and help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. For high cholesterol or hypertension brew with chrysanthemum flower.
Oolong for Taste
The processing to make oolong tea is more complicated than green or black tea, producing a more complex tea experience. Oolong tea is incredibly fragrant, with a mix of floral, fruit, and smokey depending on the variety. The taste can be a combination of sweet, pungent, light, heavy, fruity, and floral.
Oolong Tea Categories
All tea comes from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Different types of tea, and different subcategories, are the result of different tea plant varieties, age of the plant, growing region, and processing. I recommend sampling a tea from different subcategories to decide which style(s) you like.
Anxi Oolong is from the famous tea-growing region of Anxi County in Fujian Province, China. Oolong from this region is characterized by its low oxidation (about 15%) making it closer to green tea in appearance and tea color. The dried tea leaves are rolled into little balls and are green. They emit a strong floral fragrance. Anxi oolong includes Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy), Huang Jin Gui (Golden Osmanthus), Benshan, and Maoxie. Tie Guan Yin oolong is arguably the most popular type of oolong of any category. It has a beautiful complex aroma and taste that lasts multiple infusions. I have not met anyone who did not like it.
Wuyi Yan (Rock) Oolong is the earliest type of oolong. It is heavily oxidized (30-60%) giving a smoky dimension to fragrance and taste. It is called “rock” tea because it is planted between rocks and gives off the fragrance of flowers growing on rocks. Wuyi Yan oolong includes Dahongpao, Tieluohan, Baijiguan, Shuijingui, Rougui (Cinnamon), and Shuixian (Daffodil). Dahongpao oolong is the most popular in this category due to its enduring orchid fragrance and sweet aftertaste.
Dancong Oolong is characterized by a floral and honey taste and fragrance. Dancong oolongs are categorized by geographic location, Phoenic or Ling Tou, and their floral characteristics such as Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid Fragrance), Huang Zhi Xiang (Yellow Gardenia Fragrance), Jiang Hua Xiang (Ginger Flower Fragrance), Xing Ren Xiang (Almond Fragrance), and Gui Hua Xiang (Osmanthus Flower Fragrance). Try one based on your flower preference.
I have not explored Taiwanese Oolongs, though they are known to be more heavily oxidized than other types of oolong (meaning they are closer to black tea than green tea). Taiwan’s climate is conducive to tea production so they have many tea-producing regions and varieties. Types of Taiwanese oolong include Baihao (Pengfeng), Wenshan Baozhong, Dongding, Yushan, Alishan, Lishan, and Jinxuan. Dongding oolong is considered the elite of Taiwanese oolongs.
Reprocessed Oolong tea takes oolong tea leaves and adds flowers or herbs to enhance flavor or health effects. Common flower essences added to oolong are gardenia and osmanthus. Ginseng oolong is a popular health tea where ginseng powder is added to oolong leaves.