India has its black teas, Japan has its green teas, and China has them all. But China and Taiwan have Oolong teas which are actually some of the most prized, or at least most well respected in China and the rest of the world. Often when you hear of a Chinese tea ceremony, they are brewing some sort of oolong. For the Chinese tea ceremony a lot of times the tea being brewed is Ti Kuan Yin.
Ti Kuan Yin is named after Kuan Yin the Buddhist Bodhisattva of compassion (mercy). A story of its naming tells of a farmer who often walked through a forest on his way to harvest tea, but would always pass by an old long forgotten temple which housed an iron statue of Kuan Yin. The farmer paid his respects to the temple in the humble ways he could, and one night the Bodhisattva appeared to him in his dream, telling him of a cave behind the temple. The farmer went to the cave and discovered a tea plant, which he planted in his field. It grew up to be a huge bush, of which he shared clippings with all his neighbors so that they could grow the bush too. And that’s how the tea from this bush came to be known as Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy).
Oolong teas are very tricky in the fact that they are one of the hardest to classify, so much that they are more often described by what they are not. Oolong teas are more oxidized than a green tea, but not fully oxidized like a black tea. So you can have oolongs that are very green looking, or you can have oolongs that are very dark in color, and anywhere in between. But the most confusing part is that Oolong teas are usually roasted to some degree. So if your open up a bag of oolong and it smells slightly smoky, don’t panic! It’s natural and probably roasted to some degree.