Chinese Oolong Tea: easy guide, top 10 best teas

Last updated: August 24, 2020 at 0:30 am

Meet the Oolong family

Chinese Oolong (wulong) is a favorite among discerning tea drinkers. It has its own distinct flavor, despite being made of the leaves and young buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant, just like any other tea. What makes it stand out from other teas is the direction that the tea master chooses during the processing stage. Oolong is a partially oxidized type of tea. The oxidization level differentiates it from green or black teas.

How is the tea made? There are several steps in the production of tea. After the tea has been harvested, it has to be processed. First, the tea leaves are dried. Once withered, they are rolled into strips, either mechanically, or manually for certain high-quality teas. The next step (for some types of tea) is fermenting, or oxidization. The level of oxidation decides the “color” of the loose leaf tea. The longer the tea is oxidized, the darker it gets. Black teas represent the final stage in the oxidation process. In green teas, on the other hand, the oxidation must be stopped while the leaves still retain their fresh, vegetal scents. There are different ways to do this: by steaming, pan firing, or oven roasting. Oolong sits in between black and green teas on the oxidation scale.

Born in China

China is the cradle of oolong tea. The name itself has Chinese origins, translating to “Dragon Tea” (wulong cha) in Chinese. Nowadays, other tea producing regions including Taiwan and India have mastered the art of making oolongs, leading to quite a few oolong varieties on the market. However, oolongs from China, especially from the Chinese provinces Fujian and Guangdong, maintain their star status.

A long history…and quite a few stories

There are plenty of stories describing the origins of the legendary Chinese oolong. Some talk about how a tea farmer, distracted by the sight of a deer, didn’t start processing his freshly picked tea leaves until the next day. In the process, the tea leaves started to oxidize naturally and give off an interesting aroma. (For added effect, the story mentions that the farmer’s nickname happened to be Oolong!) There are other accounts that reference Beiyuan tea, a traditional Fujian tea in which the leaves were compressed into cakes and offered as a tribute to the royal family. When these “compressed” teas went out of fashion, they were replaced by partially oxidized loose leaf teas – or the very first oolongs.

One hundred shades of Chinese Oolong

The flavors of Chinese Oolong can range from light to full-bodied, from floral to grassy, and from sweet to toasty. The color of the infusion also varies from chartreuse green to pale golden and light brown.

Why are Chinese Oolongs so different?

The appearance and flavor of any kind of tea depend on the region where it is grown, and on its processing method. The perfect Oolong, however, is more an outcome of the artisan’s technique than of the tea’s geographical or genetic origin.

Production of Chinese Oolong

There are some characteristic features of the Chinese Oolong production process that make these teas so distinctive and diverse.

  • Oxidation level. Varying levels of oxidation play a major role in determining tea flavor. Chinese Oolongs can have oxidation degrees anywhere between eight and eighty percent. Lightly oxidized oolongs would have a fresher and more floral aroma.
  • The method of “cooking”. Chinese tea masters use low-temperature pan-firing or oven roasting to halt the oxidation process. This results in the familiar lightly toasted flavor and smooth, earthy quality of Chinese Oolongs.
  • The shape of the finished tea leaves. The Chinese are particular about the “look” of the dry tea leaves. The leaves of any kind of Chinese Oolong will have a distinctive shape, often twisted or curled into small balls, preserving their aromas inside.

Types of Chinese Oolong tea

Online tea stores have several varieties of Chinese Oolongs to offer. Tea styles vary in flavors, origins, and value. From lightly oxidized, floral, greener types to darker, full-bodied teas, there is a wide spectrum of oolongs in China. Here are some most popular types.

  • Tie Guan Yin Oolong (Iron Goddess of Mercy). A famous Oolong from the Fujian province, Tie Guan Yin is one of the China’s most popular teas. Light to moderately oxidized, it has floral orchid notes in its taste. Tie Guan Yin is usually reasonably priced, making it a great starter oolong.
  • Da Hong Pao Oolong (Big Red Robe). One of the rock teas from the Wuyi Mountain region, this oolong is well-fermented and charcoal fire finished. It is full-bodied and richly flavored, making a deeper, fuller, aromatic cup with light smoky undertones.
  • Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong (Single Bush). A rare tea from the Phoenix Mountain region of the Guangdong Province, this is a well-balanced oolong with a complex flavor. It starts toasty and woodsy, finishing with sweet and fruity notes on your palate, accented by subtle hints of lychee and wildflower honey.

Tea tips

How do you choose a tea that suits your palate? And in particular, if you’re eager to try Chinese Oolong, how do you pick one?

If you’re new to Chinese Oolong, then Tie Guan Yin Oolong (also known as Iron Buddha, Buddha of Mercy, and Iron Goddess) would be your safest bet. This beginner-friendly oolong has a sweet, mellow aroma and an affordable price-point, making for a great everyday tea.

Organic Big Red Robe

Organic Big Red Robe

Organic Big Red Robe oolong tea, also known as Da Hong Pao, is the artisan Oolong of California Tea House's Oolong collection. It is the finest grade of Chinese Oolong anywhere, hand picked for perfect color modeling and complexion. If you are familiar with Oolong, once you have tried Big Red Robe loose leaf tea, we are convinced you will recognize the difference in quality, taste and aroma to any other. Our Organic Big Red Robe Oolong is so rich, it can be infused (or steeped) a handful of times. Like having wine from different levels of the same barrel, each new cup reveals a new layer of this tea's complexity. Most of our customers have said they believe the 2nd round of infusion on the same leaves bring out the best flavor.
Da Hong Pao Oolong O.P. Tea Organic

Da Hong Pao Oolong O.P. Tea Organic

Da Hong Pao is one of the most famous oolong teas in the world. It comes from the famous Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian Province of China. It is one of 5 ‘Rock Teas’, meaning the teas are grown in more rocky areas making the mineral content in the soil much denser. This is what gives the 5 rock teas their signature flavors. This very full bodied tea has a roasted flavor with a very particular sweetness to it and is reminiscent of baked goods or molasses.
Tie Kuan Yin Oolong Tea Organic

Tie Kuan Yin Oolong Tea Organic

Tie Kuan Yin Oolong Tea undergoes partial fermentation, producing a beautiful medley of black and green teas with lightly roasted curled leaves, and it has a full-bodied, smooth taste. Low in caffeine, one cup of oolong tea has 10-15% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. A succulent tea sure to appeal to the senses of both the black and green tea lover.
Organic Iron Goddess of Mercy

Organic Iron Goddess of Mercy

Organic Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong, TieguanYin, is the famous tea that legend tells us was cultivated by the compassionate farmer Wei in order to raise money to restore the aging temple that housed the iron statue of Guanyin in Fujian's Anxi county. We love Organic Iron Goddess for its magical, smooth taste with a very delicate sweet touch. This premium Oolong is amazing through 4 to 6 infusions.
Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea – Ti Kuan Yin

Iron Goddess of Mercy Tea – Ti Kuan Yin

A Chinese oolong tea that is storied to have grown on China's high hilltops amongst fresh streams and cool crisp air. Iron Goddess of Mercy is comprised of tender leaves that are gently basket tossed immediately after harvesting to rupture the cells for semi-oxidization. Trust us, you'll want to re-steep this.
Nonpareil Wudong Song Zhong Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea

Nonpareil Wudong Song Zhong Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea

The trees for this tea grow along Wudong Mountain at an altitude of 1400 meters where the natural environment is superior and conducive to the development of the leaves and formation of tea polyphenols and important aromatic substances. Also important is how the tea here is picked only once a year, and is cultivated via traditional farming methods without any kind of cutting, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. The dry leaf of Song Zhong maintains a sweet, smooth honey aroma; brewed with boiling water, this fragrance overflows from the gaiwan and melds with a clearer fruit fragrance beneath. The tea liquid is sweet and fragrant, with a rich yet mellow taste that leaves a lingering aftertaste. Compared to Ya Shi Xiang Dan Cong, Song Zhong has a stabler aroma, with a richer, fuller thickness and flavor.
Nonpareil Handmade Anxi Qing Xiang TieGuanYin Oolong Tea

Nonpareil Handmade Anxi Qing Xiang TieGuanYin Oolong Tea

When Anxi County is mentioned, the most common association is Anxi Tie Guan Yin, “Iron Goddess” tea. It is well-known both at home and abroad as one of China’s ten greatest teas. As tieguanyin can endure through a great number of infusions, all the while letting out a lofty, floral aroma, this tea is truly unique to drink. The aroma washes away the noise and stress of the city and leaves in its place the brisk fragrance of orchids, a mellow taste from the first sip to the last, and then the tea’s characteristic sweet, throaty flavor and lingering aftertaste.
Huang Guanyin (Yellow Goddess) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea

Huang Guanyin (Yellow Goddess) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea

Huang Guanyin “Yellow Goddess” rock oolong tea, also known as “105” tea, is a relatively small minority when it comes to rock teas. It possess traits of both “Iron Goddess” Tie Guan Yin as well as the aroma of Golden Osmanthus oolong, giving it a very rich and long-lasting fragrance. As a result, this tea is an excellent introduction to rock oolongs. After being lightly roasted on a charcoal fire five times over, this Huang Guanyin takes on a rich, fragrant aroma and gives a bright amber liquid, mellow and floral in taste. There is just a hint of bitterness within the first few steeps, but this quickly gives way to a sweet aftertaste that lingers in later steeps even with the dying taste of the tea. This tea’s magic lies in its unique aroma, different every time you brew it: sometimes it takes on floral notes, sometimes it becomes sweeter like milk, and sometimes it is even reminiscent of wine. For Huang Guanyin, tasting the fragrance is just as important as tasting the liquid itself.
Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea Fujian

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea Fujian

This Wuyi Da Hong Pao provided by TeaVivre is a perfect choice for people who want to discover Wuyi rock oolong teas, or for oolong lovers that want a Da Hong Pao for daily drinking. This tea presents unique characteristics such as its rich, long-lasting floral fragrance and its smooth, sweet, refreshing aftertaste. Wuyi oolong tea, also known as ‘rock oolong’ or “yancha”, is produced in northern Fujian. The tea leaves in this family are long and curly rather than ball-shaped, and are more oxidized and more heavier roasted than their southern cousin of Tie Guan Yin. Wuyi tea is not a single tea variety; rather, it refers to all teas that are grown on Wuyi Mountain.
Wuyi Oolong

Wuyi Oolong

Organic Oolong Tea. Long, beautiful leaves unwind and unfurl when steeped to release a smooth, rich flavor. A wonderful choice for educating the palate to the time-tested taste profiles that make our Wuyi Mountain Oolong tea so unique and refreshing. Our Wuyi Oolong is 60-80% oxidized, and steeps a deep golden hue with crisp and earthy tones and a slightly peppery..

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