Monday, November 29, 2010

Oolong Tea

By Jess Hodges

On the face of it oolong is one of the inbetweeners of the tea world. Produced in the mountains of China and Taiwan, the level of oxidation is more than green tea but less than black and the leaves are either curled or pressed into balls, sort of like gunpowder tea. Despite this you couldn't mistake it for anything else. It's flavour is completely unlike both green and black tea and it bares very little resemblance to gunpowder tea. It is very popular in Chinese restaurants where it is brewed to be strong and bitter. The oolong family contains some of the most prestigious varieties of tea in China.

Like most Chinese teas the origins of oolong tea are shrouded in ancient myth but no other tea can claim quite as many competing theories. Some say it is evolved from a type of cake tea called dragon-phoenix which was a tribute tea offered to Chinese emperors. There are ancient poems and songs which may indicate that it originated in the Wuyi mountains and takes its name from the area it came from but it is also said to have been discovered in the Anxi tea plant and named after it's creator. Some stories attribute its discovery to a man called Wu Liang who was making green tea but got distracted by a deer and allowed the fermentation to go on for too long and there are yet more stories that a travelling army requisitioned a barn where green tea was being made to sleep in. They prevented the workers from getting to the tea, prolonging it's oxidation and they slept on the tea itself, crushing and shaping it's leaves.

It's taste and colour vary widely depending on exactly how long it's fermented for and it's supposed to aid weight loss. Whichever story you chose to believe oolong is certainly a mysterious character and definitely one worth investigating for yourself.