By most accounts there are six main categories of tea. All of these come from the same plant — Camellia sinensis — and do not have anything to do with those beverages often known as herbal teas or tisanes. Categories of real tea include black, green, white, yellow, puerh and oolong. The latter might also be referred to as wulong or wu long. It’s probably these last two categories – puerh and oolong – that are the most appealing to tea connoisseurs and collectors.
The Merriam Webster dictionary claims that the word oolong comes from the Chinese word for black dragon, which first came into usage sometime around 1850. Oolong tea is produced in many regions, but the varieties from China and Taiwan are considered to be the best.
It might oversimplifying the point, but you could make the argument that oolong tea is somewhere between green and black. Black tea, of course, is one of the most oxidized types and green tea is generally not oxidized at all. Certain varieties of oolong are lightly oxidized – is some cases by as little as ten percent – and are more like green tea. Other oolong varieties are oxidized nearly as much black tea and have a more robust flavor to match.
The more lightly processed oolong teas often have fruity or floral flavor notes while the more oxidized ones tend to have an earthier taste, oftentimes with smoky overtones. Some of the better oolong teas are famed for their large unbroken leaves, which are perfect for multiple resteepings.
It’s hardly possible to cover the complex topic of oolong tea varieties here. Some of these are among the most desired and expensive of all tea types, but a brief overview will suffice. Some of the best-known Chinese oolongs are grown in the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian province. Also from Fujian is the Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and the Dan Cong, from Guangdong province. Some of the best-known oolong teas from Taiwan are Alishan and Pouchong.
Don’t forget to check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!