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One of my favorite ways of enjoying tea may not be familiar among the British but it is beginning to sweep the United States by storm. Bubble Tea, or Pearl Tea and Boba Tea (boba is what bubble tea is called in the area I live in), is a Taiwanese variant of milk and tea but with an added twist of little black bubbles. The term bubble comes from the little black “bubbles” or “pearls”* on the bottom of the cup. But what are they?

The little bubbles are actually a form of tapioca. The tapioca comes from the cassava root. Americans make tapioca pudding from this but the Taiwanese use this to make their little pearls. They make them small or large. In addition to the tapioca pearls, they add other things like pudding (not the British pudding!), aloe, and flavored jellies like lychee or mango. This can be added to the milk teas, clear teas, and even the slushies they make!

Boba

(c) Crystal Derma for use by The English Tea Store

The tea used to make the bubble tea are simple black, green, oolong, and ceylon teas. They are mixed with milk or made iced. Another type of drink that is made by bubble tea shops is called a snow, which is LITERALLY like snow! Just be warned, they’re very hard to drink. The fun part of bubble tea is that the milk tea can be made in many flavors, like coffee, chocolate, taro, red bean, or fruity flavors. The plain teas like black, green, oolong, and ceylon can also be flavored as such. Of course, the MOST fun part is drinking the pearls through a straw. Usually a large, wide straw is given so the pearls can travel up and be chewed (yes, I eat the pearls).

Unfortunately, there is a debate among my fiance and I. Where I come from in California, there is a competition for bubble tea. I like to get the “Tapioca Milk Tea” which is made with black tea and milk and I consider it to be the basic flavor but when I visit my fiance out in Virginia, there isn’t such a flavor. I tried to order it out there and everyone gave me funny looks, including the fiance. The closest thing I had to get was coffee/mocha and it just wasn’t the same.

I have been a fan of bubble tea since about 2001 or 2002 as a teenager and it’s an undying love for me. The local specialty stores are finally stocking the pearls to make my own bubble tea. You need to take the pearls and cook them. Once I obtain these next time I go, I hope to tell you all how to make them! I have also been told it is just black tea that is used to make the original milk tea. However it is made, bubble tea is delicious!

*When consuming these pearls, they CAN be a choking hazard. Do be careful and supervise a young child if they are enjoying one!

~CD

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Formosa oolong (ETS Image)

Formosa oolong (ETS Image)

There are a few significant tea producing countries or regions that have changed their name since tea began to be a significant industry there. Probably the most notable example is Sri Lanka. It used to be known as Ceylon, and to this day the tea produced there is known by the same name. And then there’s Taiwan.

Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan is an island nation located directly to the east of mainland China. Unlike the situation in Sri Lanka, Taiwanese tea such as this one is no longer sold under the name Formosa. Much of the tea that’s produced in Taiwan today is one of a number of highly regarded varieties of oolong.

Writing about tea in the early twentieth century, in an article called The Tea Industry of Formosa, journalist Herbert Compton that there were “highly bright prospects” for the future of this industry. He also noted that Formosa, as it was still called, was “a most delightful realm for human habitation.”

Compton recounts that according to some tales wild tea plants were thought to be native to Formosa but suggests that it was more likely that the plant was brought there from neighboring China. Tea historians Victor Mair and Erling Hoh don’t go into the specifics of exactly when and how tea got to Taiwan but apparently there are records of it being grown there as early as 1701.

By 1861, according to a British government report, a fair amount of tea was being shipped from Formosa back to tea’s place of origin – China – but tea production was apparently still a relatively minor industry. Compton credits Englishman John Dodd with doing much to further the tea industry there in the years that followed.

In the half century from 1895 onward Formosa was a colony of Japan, and both sources agree that it was during this time that tea production really began to take off. Which is probably not surprising, given Japan’s long relationship with tea. Of course, Japan is best known for producing green tea and, while it would be interesting to determine how their colony became a hotbed for oolong tea, that’s a question that will have to wait for another day.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The more I look into the details of tea, the more complex it is. My recent foray deep into the “jungle” of information about oolong cultivars revealed even more complexity. There is quite a variety of oolongs made from an array of cultivars of the tea plant Camellia Sinensis. So much for that outsider’s image of tea as a fairly simple subject. (Buy a box of teabags, heat some water, dunk a teabag in the water, and — voilà! — a cuppa tea!) After this journey exploring information about oolongs, that image is shattered forever. Time to disillusion some of you.

Traditional Shui Xian Oolong leaves after steeping. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Traditional Shui Xian Oolong leaves after steeping. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Is It the Tea Leaves or the Processing?

Before diving into talk about the cultivars, I want to address an issue that popped up over an over again. There is a debate going on out there about what constitutes an oolong tea. Three main schools of thought seem to prevail:

  1. Oolong tea is made from a particular class of cultivars.
  2. Oolong tea is made from a particular class of cultivars grown only in certain locations (the way Darjeeling teas are).
  3. Oolong tea is made from tea leaves processed in a certain way.

While I did not see a consensus on which of these is the definitive one, I did see plenty of evidence that each seems to be part of the puzzle. Oolongs are made from certain cultivars grown mainly in Taiwan (formerly Formosa) and the Fujian Province of China, separated from Taiwan by a narrow stretch of water called the Taiwan Strait. However, some cultivars considered acceptable for oolongs are being grown in other provinces of China and in Hawaii, among other places. In fact, there is a Darjeeling Oolong. One common element is oxidation, which varies between about 8% to as much as 70%. They also are withered to some extent and then dried, often using the roasting method.

Some Popular Cultivars

Taiwan boasts a wide array of cultivars (some folks claim that they number in the thousands). Some have proven more popular for the tea farmers due to faster growing rates, more compact bushes that produce more usable leaves and can be machine harvested, and more disease resistance. However, even the cultivars with weaker growth and less disease resistance are grown due to the reputation of the tea they produce.

  • Chin-Shin (Green-centered) — usually only lightly oxidized and labeled as “Pouchong” (Light Oolong). Variations include Chin-Shin Da Pan, Si-Ji-Chun, Chin-Shin Oolong, Chin-Shin Gan Zai, TTES No.7, TTES No.8, and TTES No.18.
  • Soft-stem — the original oolong cultivar introduced to Taiwan in the 1850s from Fujian, China; often confused with Chin-shin; used to make Dong-Ding oolong. Even though it is weaker growing and less disease-resistant than Chin-Shin, it is still grown for special orders and because some tea farmers have an affinity for it.
  • Jin Xuan (Golden Tiger Lily, Day Lily, TTES No.12, Chinhsuan, Taiwan #12) — has higher growth rate, better disease-resistance, very charming “creamy” aroma, sometimes sugarcane-like, a natural milky buttery flavor with fruit notes, and a soft liquid quality.
  • Cui Yu (Green Jade, TTES No.13, Tzuiyu, Taiwan #13) — about a medium growth rate but a loose form so that machine harvesting is difficult, liquid has a unique and intensely floral/orchid aroma.
  • Si-Ji (Four Season, “Da-To-Hwei son,” “Si-Ji Chuan,” Four-season Spring) — a naturally hybrid cultivar with a strong growth rate year round; the tea has an intense floral/fruity aroma that isn’t as “wide” feeling or as exquisite as Chin-shin.
  • Luanze (Qing-Xin, Green Heart) — used to make Dong-Ding oolong (the authentic version is made only from tea leaves grown on Dong Ding Mountain, 700-1200 meters elevation), traditionally only the tea shoots (the bud and 2-3 leaves) are used and oxidized to 25-35%; also used to make Baozhongs that are lightly oxidized and range in flavor from light and sweet like Japanese sencha to floral to fruity.
  • Formosa — large-leaved cultivar named after the island of Formosa (now Taiwan); fragrant and floral with a persistent finish; a combination of growing environment and fine processing done by true tea craftsmen.
  • Gaoshan — has five varieties (Meishan, Yushan, Wushe, Lishan, and Alishan – priciest and most highly regarded), is similar to Qing-Xin used to make Dong-Ding (medium oxidation, withering, and rolling); some of the oolongs made from this cultivar are aged and all have fairly complex flavors involving fruits, florals, and a sweetness akin to sugarcane.

(“TTES” means “Taiwan Tea Experiment Station” and is used by tea researchers to designate their successes.)

See also:
Oolong Blasphemy

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oolong tea, also known as Wu Long tea, has been widely touted as a weight-loss tea. This could be due to the result of caffeine on the nervous system and the increase of metabolism from the polyphenols. You could probably say this about all teas, that combined with proper diet and exercise, they aid in weight loss. Tea also has lots of antioxidants, which help fight cancer. All the more reason to enjoy a nice cup of tea.

Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea that can be almost green to nearly black. The greenish black leaves can be infused more than once, making it economical even for the better grades of tea. I like to refrigerate leftover tea to have on hand for iced tea. Most oolong tea has a delicate fruity flavor and is enjoyable hot or cold. This makes it quite surprising to me that oolong consumption is very low compared to other teas.

This type of tea originated in the Fukien province of China and is mostly produced in China and Taiwan. There are many varieties, but some consider Formosa Oolong to be the best of them.

You may have already tried oolong tea in your favorite Chinese restaurant. Jasmine, green and oolong are the teas served most often. Many Chinese restaurants include complimentary tea with your meal. The first time I remember drinking oolong was at P.F. Chang’s restaurant. They served the tea in a little black tetsubin pot. It was so delicious, I asked my server what brand of tea they used. It turned out to be Revolution Tea called Dragon Eye Oolong. It is delicious and I’ve been enjoying this tea ever since. It comes boxed with 16 premium full- leaf infuser bags.

But what about the dragon? Oolong means black dragon and was named this because of the long twisted black leaves.

Make sure to stop by the parTEA Lady’s blog, Tea and Talk!

[Editor’s note: Our blog is chock full of great articles on this topic. Use our search feature to find them!]

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea

Quickly becoming a stand-out among teas, Oolong is a true tea phenomenon. When many people think of tea, they think of a black tea blend, the kind that comes in most bagged teas available commercially. As they hear more of the health benefits of tea, they learn about green tea and try some of that. But Oolong is a tea that is in-between these two.

Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea, meaning that the tea leaves are allowed to ferment (or oxidize) for a short period before the leaves are pan heated to halt the process. From this point, the tea is processed in different ways to create a wide variety of tastes.

The three main classes of Oolongs are:

  • Formosa Oolong from Taiwan— smooth, medium-bodied, subtly tasting of ripe fruit; the liquid is golden amber.
  • Wu-yi Oolong from China — lighter in color than Formosa Oolong, with a tinge of green in the amber “liquor” and a floral flavor.
  • Tie Guan Yin from China — not as dark as Formosa Oolong, with a floral flavor. (I got to try a splendid one recently.)

Oolongs of Fujian Province in China
These teas are traditionally oxidized more and baked longer at higher temperatures than Taiwan oolongs. They produce a rich, full-bodied tea “liquor” with little astringency. Each has its own flavor, with the best of them often described as rich, mellow, and having a floral aroma, particularly orchids, and a fruity aftertaste akin to ripe peaches.

Some mainland oolongs:

  • Rougui (Chinese Cassia)
  • Shuixian (Water Sprite)
  • Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) probably the rarest (made with leaves from just one ancient tea tree, very little is produced each year)
  • Xiao Hong Pao (Small Red Robe)

Tie Guan Yin Oolongs of China
Originating in the Anxi County in Fujian, these teas produce a mellow, smooth flavor and golden liquid. If you are trying to break away from drinking coffee, these teas are a wonderful transition for you. The well-known flavor characteristics are a result of the leaves being rolled into a ball shape during processing, after which they are baked at medium-high temperatures.

Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Select) Oolongs of China
From the Guangdong Province, this tea is made of leaves harvested from single trunk trees grown on Phoenix Mountain, where workers have to use ladders or climb the trees to reach the leaves. The leaves are twisted and brownish in color. They stand up to several infusions, producing an aromatic, amber tea “liquor.” Flavors range from almost woody to slightly bitter or astringent on the first infusion.

Signature Oolongs of Taiwan
There are over 100 different varietals of the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) cultivated around the island and used to produce popular oolong-style teas such as:

  • Jinhsuen — a wide type of leaf used in High Mountain tea
  • Szjichuan — used for many Jade Oolongs
  • Wenshan Baozhong — with a light infusion, floral aroma, and gentle aftertaste
  • Tie Guan Yin — sometimes scented with osmanthus flowers; rich and flavorful with an aftertaste that sweetly lingers
  • Oriental Beauty (unique to Taiwan) — a medium-bodied tea “liquor,” floral aroma, a rich aftertaste of honey and peaches, with the best grades not being baked
  • Tung ting (Frozen Peak) — medium-bodied, smooth, a lingering aftertaste that’s mildly sweet

This will give you a place to start exploring the wonders of Oolong teas. Whether you want to switch from coffee to tea drinking, are seeking the health benefits of these wonderful teas, or just want a new tea experience, you can’t go wrong with any of the ones listed here. So…

…pick an Oolong…any Oolong…and you will be in for a taste treat that will make your mouth very happy. Enjoy!

Learn more about tea on A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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