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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

All about Oolongs - the Black Dragon

oolong [ˈuːˌlɒŋ]
a kind of dark tea, grown in China, that is partly fermented before being dried
[from Chinese wu lung, from wu black + lung dragon]
There's something special about oolongs, and I'm certainly not the first person to notice. Often called the "Champagne of teas," oolongs bridge the divide between green and black teas, with a wide array of flavors and varying degrees of oxidation. Unlike many other varieties of tea, oolongs can actually improve with multiple infusions. 

In The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, Michael Harney introduces the magic of this variety:
 “A sip from a light oolong can taste like a walk through a garden packed with lilacs, gardenias, and jasmine. A darker oolong can smell like a bakery right after it’s finished a round of peach pies…. Many oolongs are creamy, their liquor litteraly coating your mouth like fresh cream. Others are almost effervescent, practically fizzing like Champagne.”
1. Baozhong: This is the lightest of the oolongs, closer to a green tea than our other selections with only 25% oxidation. Harney describes the Baozhong as having an aroma of gardenia, jasmine and butter, but the perhaps my flavor palate isn't sophisticated enough to distinguish the light floral notes. Mostly I just taste the signature grassy flavor of green teas, with a hint of cream or butter on the finish. 

2. Tai Guanyin: This variety is much more robust than the Baozhong, medium bodied with a 40% oxidation rate. Harney observes floral gardenia and buttered white toast in his Tai Guanyin, but I find it to be more of a woody, toasted flavor. An old Chinese myth relates the story of a poor farmer renovating the temple of a Buddhist deity, Guan Yin. Suddenly the iron statue of the goddess comes to life and tells the man that he will find fortune in the fields by the temple. He begins to cultivate the tea bush he finds there, naming it after Guan Yin, the Iron Goddess of Mercy. 

3. Baihao: At 75% percent oxidation, this oolong is much closer to a black tea, and happens to be my favorite of the Teaism selection. It brews to a rich, red color, smells floral, and tastes lightly of peaches and toast. 

4. Formosa: Also 75% oxidized and therefore close to a black tea, Formosa has a very particular flavor - love it or hate it. It tastes nutty and slightly creamy, with a natural sweetness but a slightly astringent aftertaste. 

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