What is Formosa Oolong?
Formosa oolongs are a signature range of Taiwanese teas – with a Portuguese name. This is hardly an anomaly, though. ‘Formosa’, meaning ‘beautiful’, was what Portuguese explorers named the island of Taiwan in the 16th century. Here, misty mountains lined with tea gardens churn out some of the most popular teas on the market today, oolongs accounting for over 90% of the total yield. Formosa oolongs are harvested both in spring and in winter, and undergo minimal to moderate fermentation via slow roasting.
A wealth of variety
Varying levels of oxidation (ranging between 10% and 30%) lead to various types of Formosa oolongs. Pouchong (Bao Zhong) is the lightest and “greenest” of them all, while Taiwanese Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) represents the other end of the oxidation spectrum. Other well-loved varieties include High Mountain Oolong (Gao Shan) and Milk Oolong (Jin Xuan).
Tasting notes and reviews
Formosa oolongs are fragrant and complex, with a range of leafy, floral and fruity notes. Most dry leaves have a “green fragrance”. They make “amber colored”, “smooth textured” infusions, with a “subtle earthy taste”, and a “lingering sweetness” that gets further enhanced with every steep. Depending on the type of Formosa oolong you’re drinking, you can expect “toasty”, “raisin-y” or “woodsy” notes. Spring harvested versions are “creamy” in texture and have floral notes, while winter oolongs are “light and aromatic” with a thicker, “mulchier” mouth feel. Being easy to prepare, and “sweet enough to be perfectly enjoyable without sugar”, Formosa oolongs generally work well as everyday teas in both hot and cold versions.
How do you make Formosa Oolong?
There’s isn’t a single recipe you can follow for all Formosa oolongs, and there definitely isn’t a single flavor profile that you can expect from all of them. From well-oxidized Oriental Beauty to creamy and rounded Milk Oolong, to greener Pouchong, Taiwanese oolongs are a world in themselves. Following the specific instructions accompanying your batch of tea is the best way to sample a given Taiwanese oolong. Generally speaking, most Formosa oolongs should be steeped in filtered water that is just below boiling point. 190-200°F is a good thumb rule. To get the best aroma and flavor, it’s best to remove the tea leaves after 2-3 minutes of steeping.
The quality of any Taiwanese oolong is closely linked with the climatic conditions it is grown and harvested in. Premium oolongs are grown in the higher reaches of the mountains, where ample cloud cover and a cool climate allow the leaves adequate time to develop their flavor.
High quality Formosa oolong leaves can also be identified visually. Upon unfurling in hot water, they should take the shape of a stem with a tripe leaf cluster. You should typically be able to get multiple infusions from a good quality Formosa oolong.