Oolong teas, or 'blue' teas, as they are sometimes called, are partially or semi-oxidised/fermented teas. Predominantly produced in China and Taiwan, oolongs are produced from the 'proper' tea plant, the 'Camellia Sinensis'.
Lesser known and more complex in flavour than most black teas, good quality oolong teas are almost on par with fine wines for expense and enjoying sparingly. After all, the most expensive tea in the world, Da Hong Pao, is a rare dark oolong. However, many are an affordable, healthy luxury, with lots of health claims made about their anti-oxidant and weight loss properties!
Loosely speaking, oolong teas fall between the green and black tea categories but there is huge differentation within the category itself. Indeed, oolong teas fall into two distinct groups, owing to the different methods by which they are traditionally produced.
Greener, balled oolongs
Freshly plucked leaves are withered and tumbled until they reach around 30% oxidation at which point they are briefly heated to prevent further oxidisation. After being dried and left to rest overnight, the leaves are bagged inside large cloths which are tightened and then rolled, so they are bruised and squeezed into balls. The cloth bag is then opened, the compacted leaves are unravelled and the process repeated up to 60 times until the leaves are semi-balled pellets which are then oven-dried.
Due to their compacted nature, greener, balled oolongs can be infused multiple times, often producing a fragrant, golden-green liquor with a floral, lightly fruity flavour, as exhibited by our Ti Guan Yin Oolong.
Darker Open-leafed Oolongs
The leaves are left to wither in the sun outside and then indoors on bamboo baskets. This starts oxidisation and begins to dry out the leaf. Every two hours the leaves are "rattled" in the bamboo baskets to break the cell walls in the tea leaf to facilitate further oxidisation to around 70%. At this point, the leaf is heated and then dried in hot ovens.
These darker oolongs can also be infused repeatedly, producing an amber liquor with soft fruity and honeyed notes. Some Taiwanese oolongs, such as the one featured in our Smoko blend, are dried over fire, giving rise to more smokey, lapsang notes.