Tea 201 - Blue Teas - Why Oolongs are Special

Don’t panic! The tea is not really blue!  But it is a type of oolong.  It is actually partly oxidized mix of green and black tea collectively grouped as qīngchá (Chinese: 青茶; literally "blue-green tea").

But that’s only a part of the category that is oolong.  What is oolong? Why is it so special?  According to some the oolong is considered to be the most complicated tea produced.  One tea master, Lin Zhi, likened tea to painting.    He compared oolongs to oils paintings, green tea to Chinese ink paintings and black teas to water colors.

The word Oolong (or Wulong) comes from the Chinese word 烏龍 meaning ‘black dragon tea.’

There is a legend that during the Ming Dynasty, there was a ban on tea production for about 150 years.  The tea makers essentially had to find different techniques. There were some (likely Buddhist monks) who had invented charcoal roasting techniques in drying their teas.  This slow charcoal roasting along with the oxidization became the defining flavor of Oolong is today.

If you have to look at oolongs more literally, green tea is one extreme while black tea is the other.  Oolongs are the ‘middle ground’ of teas, so to speak.  Greens are not oxidized; black is completely oxidized while the oolongs are everything in between.  The complexity of the tea is due to the fact that oolong is not completely oxidized like black teas.  There’s not even an exact science as to how much the tea can be oxidized to be considered oolong.  The range is anywhere between 15%-75% oxidation.  Because of this fact, the flavor of oolongs is never officially consistent.  The flavors have been known to wood and thick with roasted aromas, green and fresh with a bouquet or sweet and fruity with honey aromas.

The combinations are mind boggling.  But I love the idea of a tea flavor being a form of roulette, you never know what kind of flavor you’ll get.

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