Basics: What is Oolong Tea?

Mar 30, 2013 by

You come here for a reason. I bet you have heard oolong tea before, from a friend, TV show or newspaper, and you may somehow know that it can benefit your health, but you are not that confident about it. So, for anyone new to it, this article is for you. And if you are like me drinking it for many years, please add your insights in the comment, which will definitely benefit the community as a whole. So, without further ado, let’s find out…


What is Oolong Tea?


Tea is gaining a lot of traction these years outside of China, especially in western countries. It has three major categories: green, oolong, and black tea. And oolong is quite unique, which is a semi-fermented tea.


But you may ask, what exactly is semi-fermented tea? Since the production process is rather complex, I would like to put in a way that you can understand easily (I will cover more details later in this article):


You must try green tea before, which is extremely popular all around world, ideal for weight loss. The green tea is not fermented at all, which means after the tea leaves are reaped, they are roasted immediately, keeping the substances of tea as it is.


The black tea is quite the opposite, fully fermented, which means chemical changes have taken place for a long time, then the original substances have been transformed into another form, so the taste of black tea is totally different from green tea. However, the oolong does not go that far. It is somewhere between green tea and black tea, with a highly distinct tastes and some extra benefits.


Origin of Oolong Tea


This Chinese tea was actually first known as Beiyuan Tea, which was a tribute tea. What was a tribute tea? This was a specific tea given to royalty or an emperor, like a tribute to them. It has been said that Beiyuan Tea was the first known of such teas.


Actually, Beiyuan is a place located at the north part of Fujian province (home of oolong tea). Then the tea farmers of Anxi, south part of Fujian, improved the traditional tea making techniques, so the Beiyuan Tea was evolved into a new kind. It is said that the name of first person who accidentally got this unique tea making skill was pronounced as “oolong”, so in order to memorize him, this later famous tea was call “oolong tea”.


Basically, that is the etymology of this special tea. But I will not stop here because when I first heard of the name, it didn’t make sense to me, so I will dig a little bit further here.


Oolong is directly translated from the Chinese pronunciation as I said above. But you may or may not know the character form of oolong is “乌龙(in simplified Chinese)” or “烏龍(in traditional Chinese)”. Ah eh, foreign language form you may say. But hey, don’t be intimated, a native speaker is here to help. Just relax and learn the stuff, so you can show off to your friends later.


You see, there are two characters(”乌”+”龙” or”烏”+”龍”)and the meaning of “乌” or ”烏” is “dark”, which sound like “woo” in Chinese, and that of ”龙” or ”龍” is “dragon” in English, but sound like “long” in Chinese. You can find in the image below that the dragon in Chinese myth tales is very long, which makes perfect sense coincidently.


In some other places, it is also translated as “Wu long “, the same pronunciation, but I have to clarify here since it confuses a lot of people. The reason for the different spelling is due to two different spelling systems: the Wades Giles system gives us Oolong, and the Chinese Pinyin method gives us Wu long. But sometime(rarely), it has other callings, such as brown tea(named after its color) and rock tea(some varieties of high-quality oolong grow actually on the rocks/cliffs).


So, when you read here, you may get the basic picture of this tea now. But I will not stop here. I will uncover the production process like I promised, which is more interesting and informative, so you can understand this tea more deeply. So bear with me.


The Production Process of Oolong Tea


In a nutshell, this rather intricate production process has seven main steps.


1. The Withering Step

Leaves are spread out, often in the sun, with the purpose of drawing out moisture, softening the leaves cell walls and starting the natural enzymatic fermentation.


2. The Turning Over Step

Specially designed machines are used to break down the leaves, improving oxidation and allowing the chemical elements, found within the stems, to mix with the leaves. This step contributes much to the balance of flavor in the finished product.


3. The Oxidization Step

The leaves are now given time to rest as natural fermentation process continues. During this step, leaves will change color, often to a darker green as the cell structure further breaks down. And now the tea is developing an intense flavor.


4. The Kill Green Step

This step stops the natural fermentation process whilst leaving the leaves undamaged.


5. The Rolling Step

To further increase the wonderful flavor and give shape to the leaves, hot or cold rollers (at times both) are used to break down the leaves.


6. The Drying Step

Methods such as hot air, sun or pan drying are used at this point. The flavor and aroma are further intensified, whilst the step also serves the purpose of preventing the growth of mould and eliminating any grassy taste that remains.


7. The Firing Step

Lastly, to give the required smoky flavor the leaves are roasted.


Location Where Oolong Grows


This special tea grows mainly in northern Fujian Province, southern Fujian Province (the best place producing the best oolong, i.e. Anxi county), Canton and Taiwan. The four major places have yielded the most of oolong in China, if not in the world.


And lately there are some other area begin to plant , such as Sichuan province (where I am from, though more famous for green tea production) and Hunan province in china.


More than that, it has been found transplanted outside china, such as Thailand and India.


How Can You Benefit From Drinking This Tea?


Maybe you tired of water (just like me), maybe you tired of green tea(just like me before tired of water) or other kinds of tea, maybe your friend told you that oolong can be very good for your health due to its high polyphenol antioxidant properties, but you may still have doubts in your mind, that’s ok.


You don’t have to push yourself, you can just click the links here, go right into the topic which ever makes you wonder if you should give it a try or not. Then you decide drink or not. I will just list the benefits here.

  • Boost Weight Loss
  • Combat the Signs of Aging
  • Lower Risk of Heart Disease
  • Prevent Cancer
  • Manage Diabetes
  • Relieve Stress
  • Ease Pain
  • Decrease Cholesterol


Final Words


So, that’s it. You can see it as a beginner’s guide or something. And if you like to learn the advanced topics about this tea, click the links above or check out other articles on this site. If you have some question, or just want to say hello, you can comment on the post or shoot me email. As for the seasoned tea lovers, if you want to something to add to the article or point out the misunderstanding here, again, you can comment here or sent me an email. I will reply as soon as I can.


Have a wonderful day and happy drinking…



PS: If you decide to give oolong tea a try, there is a dedicated post for you before you actually buy it.


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