Oolong (pronunciation: //) (simplified Chinese: 乌龙; traditional Chinese: 烏龍; pinyin: wūlóng) is a traditional Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis) produced through a unique process including withering the plant under the strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. Most oolong teas, especially those of fine quality, involve unique tea plant cultivars that are exclusively used for particular varieties. The degree of oxidation can range from 8 to 85%, depending on the variety and production style. Oolong is especially popular with tea connoisseurs of south China and Chinese expatriates in Southeast Asia, as is the Fujian preparation process known as the Gongfu tea ceremony.
Different styles of oolong tea can vary widely in flavor. They can be sweet and fruity with honey aromas, or woody and thick with roasted aromas, or green and fresh with bouquet aromas, all depending on the horticulture and style of production. Several types of oolong tea, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian, such as Da Hong Pao, are among the most famous Chinese teas. Different varieties of oolong are processed differently, but the leaves are usually formed into one of two distinct styles. Some are rolled into long curly leaves, while others are 'wrap-curled' into small beads, each with a tail. The former style is the more traditional of the two in China.
The name oolong tea came into the English language from the Chinese name (simplified Chinese: 乌龙茶; traditional Chinese: 烏龍茶; pinyin: wūlóng chá), meaning "black dragon tea". In Chinese, oolong teas are also known as qingcha (Chinese: 青茶; pinyin: qīngchá) or "dark green teas".
The manufacture of oolong tea is intricate because some of the basic steps involved in its making are repeated many times before the desired amount of bruising and browning of the leaves is achieved. Withering, rolling, shaping, and firing are similar to black tea, but much more attention to timing and temperature is necessary. One last step, baking or roasting, is exclusive to oolong tea and is referred to as the real art in making this tea.
There are three widely accepted explanations of the origin of the Chinese name. According to the "tribute tea" theory, oolong tea came directly from Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake tribute tea. The term oolong tea replaced the old term when loose tea came into fashion. Since it was dark, long, and curly, it was called Black Dragon tea.
According to the "Wuyi" theory, oolong tea first existed in the Wuyi Mountains region. This is evidenced by Qing dynasty poems such as Wuyi Tea Song (Wuyi Chage) and Tea Tale (Chashuo). It was said that oolong tea was named after the part of the Wuyi Mountain where it was originally produced.
Another tale tells of a man named Wu Liang (later corrupted to Wu Long, or Oolong) who discovered oolong tea by accident when he was distracted by a deer after a hard day's tea-picking, and by the time he remembered to return to the tea it had already started to oxidize.
Steeping (preparation of oolong tea)
Generally, 3 grams of tea per 200 ml of water, or about two teaspoons of oolong tea per cup, should be used. Oolong teas should be prepared with 200 to 205 °F (93 to 96 °C) water (not boiling) and steeped 3–10 minutes. High quality oolong can be steeped several times from the same leaves and, unlike other teas, it improves with rebrewing: it is common to steep the same leaves three to five times, the third or fourth steeping usually being considered the best.
A widely used ceremonial method of steeping oolongs in Taiwan and China is called gongfucha. This method uses a small steeping vessel, such as a gaiwan or Yixing clay teapot, with more tea than usual for the amount of water used. Multiple short steeps of 20 seconds to 1 minute are performed; the tea is often served in one- to two-ounce tasting cups.