Once upon a time there was a tea farmer living in the Chinese countryside. He had just finished picking a fresh batch of tea leaves and was about to start processing the leaves when he saw a deer run past. With his dinner in mind he decided to hunt the deer instead of processing the leaves. When he returned to his tea the next day it had partially reacted with the oxygen in the air - semi-oxidising. The colour of the leaves was browner than green tea, but not quite as dark as black tea. The farmer decided to finish processing the batch anyway, and a new type of tea was discovered! The farmers nickname was "Oolong" and so the new tea was named after him.
Nowadays, Oolong tea is still pretty unheard of in Western countries, which are dominated by black and green teas. However in China, Taiwan, and other Southeast Asian countries it is one of the most famous and popular types of tea. There are two main types of Oolong Tea available: Green Oolong and Dark Oolong.
Well known Green Oolong teas include Tie Guan Yin, Milk Oolong and Ali Shan. Green Oolong teas are only oxidised to around 30%, making them closer to a unoxidised green tea than a fully oxidised black tea.
Dark Oolong teas, such as Da Hong Pao, are oxidised a lot more - sometimes even up to 70 or 80%. These teas produce a darker coloured liquor than green oolong teas, with a thicker mouthfeel and darker flavour notes present.
To start with, the leaves must be slightly bruised. This is done by placing small quantities of leaves on a tray and tossing and tumbling them until the edges of the leaves go brown. This process breaks open the cell walls of the leaves and kick-starts the oxidisation process.
If you are making a Green Oolong tea, the tea master will leave the tea leaves out until they oxidise to 30%. The leaves will then be separated into groups, each weighing around 9kg. Each group will be placed in individual cloth sacks and put through a special rolling machine which twists and curls the tea leaf. The sack is then opened, the compacted leaves separated, and then rolled into a ball again. This process will be repeated up to 60 times until the leaves resemble rolled-up pellets.
An Oolong rolling machine
The process for making Dark Oolong is much simpler. After bruising, the leaves are left to oxidise to around 70-80%, and then dried and packaged for sale. The leaves are not rolled up like Green Oolong teas, although some Dark Oolong teas - like Da Hong Pao - are roasted over a charcoal fire to give a smoky flavour.
To view our collection of Oolong teas, click here.