Oolong tea, which translated in chinese means „black dragon tea” is a rather complex tea, thing which fully justifies its name. This is a traditional chinese tea, which goes through a unique process, starting from withering under strong sunwaves and oxidation. There is a wide variety of aromas and flavours available for this tea, as its oxidation values range from 8% to a staggering 85%. Flavours of oolong tea can go from sweet and fruity to green and fresh to woody and thick.
In the family tree of chinese teas, oolong tea sists somwhere between unfermented green tea and the fermented black tea. A mention must be made regarding the black tea, as it is called black only in Europe and America, while in Asia it is called red tea. As any other asian element, oolong tea has a long history behind; according to historical data, there are 4 regions, each producing a different variety of Oolong tea: Northern Fujian Province, Southern Fujian Province, Guangdong Province and Taiwan. Taiwan provice produce the High Mountain Oolong Tea, which is the most famous variety of tea in the western world.
Producing Oolong tea is not as easy as on other teas you might know or tried out; in fact, it takes 7 full steps before you can enjoy brewing the complexity of an Oolong tea, no matter its flavour. The first step is to spread out the picked leaves, letting the sun soften the cell walls of the plant. This is how the moisture is drawn to the surface of the leaves and then evaporated, also reducing the grassy taste of the final product.
The second step consists in shaking the leaves in a wicker basket, as the old chinese used to do, or, by modern means, breaking down the leaves using machines, this way improving oxidation and ensuring that chemical elements are mixing from the stems with the leaves. This removes the bitterness of the tea and balances its flavour.
The third step in producing Oolong tea is the oxidation. This step is used to continue the natural fermentation process, letting the leaves to rest after the previous step of withering or tossing. Depending on the allowed time for this step, the ammount of fermentation of the leaves is controled. Leaves tend at this point to get a darker green, or to get even red.
The fourth step known as Kill-Green or Fixing stops the natural fermentation of the leaves, but without damaging them. This is done by steaming the leaves, and pressing them in a hot pan, all done manually.
The fifth step requires the leaves to pass through cold and hot rollers, this slitghtly breaking down the leaves. On this step, the flavour of the tea is intesified, and the shape of the leaves is established.
Before firing, which is the last step of the process, the Oolong leaves pass through drying. This procedure establishes the final moisture level of the tea leaves, completely stops fermentation and removes any trace of grassy taste. The leaves are either dried in the sun or with hot air.
Finally, leaves are roasted in a pan or a basket, either with a charcoal or electrically generated heat. This final step is used in order to obtain a fruity flavour.
Nonetheless, chinese tea is worldwide know for its health benefits, sometimes almost magical cures. Most modern consumers of Oolong tea drink it because it helps on loosing weight and it prevents cancer, thanks to its anti-oxidant properties. Among these, Oolong tea is know to prevent tooth decay, relax muscles, supply vitamin C, help onr educing colesterol, and many others.
An important thing to know about Oolong tea, no matter its flavour, is that it contains quite an amount of cafeine, thus it is important to consume low quantities (less than 2 cups per day) if pregnant or if being under administration of treatment with some medicines.