Overview of Oolong Tea Varieties

Oolong tea is an extremely popular variety of traditional Chinese tea. Although the oxidation level is somewhere between black and green tea, most varieties taste more like green tea than black—however, oolong lacks the grassy taste that is often characteristic of green teas, instead usually being brewed strong and bitter with a sweet aftertaste.

Oolong tea can be broadly classified in two main categories, based on the region in which the tea is grown.  Within these broad categories a great deal of variation exists.

1: Oolong teas from Fujian province, China

The most famous oolong teas are grown in Fujian’s Wuyi Mountains, on what are known as the tea cliffs. Among these the most well-known is Da Hong Pao (in Mandarin, “Big Red Gown.”) The myth behind the name is that during the Ming dynasty, tea from this bush cured the mother of the emperor; in gratitude he sent many splendid red robes to cover the bushes. The tea from this tea bush is highly prized, and it is considered one of the best teas of China. Other famous teas from the Wuyi Mountains include Rou Gui, Tie Luohan, Shui Jin Gui, and Bai Ji Guan.

Tie Guanyin, grown in Anxi in southern Fujian, competes with Da Hong Pao in reputation. The name translates to Iron Guanyin, Guanyin being the name of the bodhisattva of compassion within Chinese Buddhism. Tie Guanyin is very light for an oolong, with low levels of oxidation; this lends it a delicate flavor profile with little of the astringent grassiness of typical green teas. Like Da Hong Pao it also has a myth associated with it: one day a poor farmer came across a run-down temple to Guanyin, and decided to clean it up and light some incense—all he could do because of his poverty. Guanyin later appeared to him in a dream, guiding him to an infant tree bush that would later produce the wonderful tea.

2: Oolong teas from Taiwan

Tea has only been cultivated in Taiwan for about 150 years, but the quality can reach that of the best mainland teas. Famous teas from Taiwan include Dongfang Meiren (Eastern Beauty) and Ali Shan (Mount Ali). Dongfang Meiren is noted for its sweet, fruity taste and the brightness of its red coloration; Ali Shan is also fruity and sweet, but has instead a lovely golden hue.  Taiwan is also known for successfully growing a number of teas that were originally cultivated in Fujian, including Pouchong and even Tie Guanyin.

Reference:
1. Oolong tea – Wikipedia
2. Oolong Tea – Guide to Oolong Tea Types – Canton Tea Co

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