What it tastes like: Complex, sometimes with vaguely fruity overtones
Caffeine content: 30 mg (per 120 ml or 4 fl. oz cup but varies according to processing)
How to drink it: Plain or lightly sweetened.
Oolongs lie somewhere in between the Black and Green teas. Because they are less fermented than black teas and more fermented than green, their infusion is smoother than black tea, and less grassy than green teas. The literal English translation of Oolong is Black Dragon. The name was given to the tea because it was thought that the intensely complex character of Oolong teas was similar to the spirit of the mythical creature.
A favorite of many tea connoisseurs, oolong covers a wide range of types and is grown mostly in China and Taiwan. Oolong teas range from the lightly processed and reminiscent of green tea to the more robust and similar to black.
Interestingly Oolongs follow almost the same production process as black tea. The major difference between the two is in its shorter fermentation time- Oolongs are often referred to as semi-fermented teas - Formosa Oolongs undergo a 60% shorter fermentation period. The result is a deeply complex tea that has characteristics of both black and green teas. The secret lies in the fermentation of the leaf's outer edges, while the heart of the leaf remains unfermented. Oxidation is stopped somewhere between the standards for green tea and black tea. The oxidation process takes two to three days.
Traditionally, once harvested, the leaves are sorted and then dried in the sun. The next step is withering which is done in bamboo baskets for 6-8 hours at room temperature. During withering the leaf edges are bruised by vigorously shaking the baskets. This bruising reduces the moisture content of the leaf and causes the edges of the leaves to oxidize more quickly then the center, adding to the complexity in taste. The length of oxidation determines oolong’s dark or green variety. To halt the oxidation the leaves are then pan-fired. The warm, freshly fired leaves are hand rolled. The leaves are alternately rolled and fired several times before the final drying. The technique in which the leaves are rolled and roasted help determine the quality and taste of the tea.
This process has now been mechanized to produce larger volumes of commercial grade Oolongs that are considered by some to be of a lower grade than the hand produced ones.
Oolongs are mainly grown in Taiwan and China. Makaibari tea estate in Darjeeling, India now produces a world class certified organic Oolong.