Hands down, oolong is the best of both worlds. The semi-oxidized tea doesn’t bite as much as green tea and is mellower to the palate than black. If you want to enjoy all the health benefits from the evergreen Camella Sinensis shrub leaves, then a cuppa or two of oolong tea daily is wise.
Indeed, no other tea can give you as much diversity in flavor and complexity in taste as oolong. By definition, it’s a big umbrella of teas oxidized between 8% to 80%. In this regard, we don’t want you groping in the dark when choosing the best oolong type for your well-being.
But, no worries. This post gives you all the nitty-gritty you need to know to enjoy the best oolong tea types on the planet. So, you and everyone you love can have extra protection from the deadliest diseases tormenting humanity today — with heart disease and cancer atop that list. Read on.
What is Oolong Tea?
Don’t get it all wrong. Oolong — like black tea, green tea, and white tea — comes from choice leaves of the Camella Sinensis shrub, a plant traced back to China hence the name Sinensis, which means from China in Latin. From one dynasty to another, tea was enjoyed by emperors who ruled the giant nation and commoners alike since about 3,000 years ago.
What separates oolong from the other tea types is the level of oxidation. Oxidation is the process of oxygen from the air changing the nature of the tea leaves.
Oxidation Breakdown in Teas
|8% - 15%
|15% - 80%
(Oxidation is apart of the Fermentation Process)
Table 1: Oolong vs other Teas in Terms of Oxidation
Green tea is the least oxidized and reflects the freshly-picked flavor of the tea leaves more than any tea (hence the grassiness), while black tea is the most oxidized (hence the bitterness). Black teas are exposed in the open air the most after picking.
On the other hand, oolong teas are in between — not as oxidized as black but not as fresh as green. But that’s a vast divide that has become a cause of confusion. Let’s dive in to put clarity on the table.
Oolong Tea Types on the Planet Today
In general, two factors affect how oolong tea turns out when you take a sip in a cuppa. These are (1) terroir: the environment by which the tea leaves grow, and lastly, (2) the processing these leaves undergo once plucked.
Indeed, the oxidation level that a particular set of Camella Sinensis leaves is exposed to affects the eventual taste of the tea. Take note that tea masters have developed distinct methodologies refined through experience in pursuing oolong tea excellence.
By Oxidation Levels
Chinese tea masters have been at it for centuries passing the craft from one tea master to the next. So, it’s no surprise the processes used in a specific region of China are similar. For their part, Taiwan's tea industry is comparatively new, starting only in the late 18th century.
Still, you’d be surprised at how much Taiwanese tea masters have refined the craft they’ve learned from their Chinese counterparts, improving these processes and eventually making a dent in the world market as distinctively a Taiwanese product.
What’s more, oolong from the island has become a worldwide phenomenon, commanding higher prices and carving a significant slice of the total world market for oolong. As small as the island is, its oolong accounts for about 20% of world production, not a small feat considering Taiwan has focused on oolong production since the 1970s.
In time, Chinese and Taiwanese tea masters follow divergent paths in processing their oolongs. Here’s a summary:
Also called black oolong, dark oolong is a generic term for oolong teas that follow a process similar to black tea. These oolong teas are more oxidized and exposed to the air for far longer than most in the market today.
With dark oolong, you’re bound to taste a full-bodied liquor accompanied by a bit of astringency — if at all. For the most part, China’s oolongs are categorized as dark and usually baked at a much higher temperature than Taiwan’s. The most prominent are those grown on cliffs in the Fujian Province.
The higher oxidation affects the color of the tea leaves, turning them darker. Also, you’ll notice the steeped cuppa is darker than usual. The appearance of the leaves betrays the oolong origin. Usually, China dark oolongs are long, twisted leaves or a ‘strip’ style, while Taiwan dark oolongs come in beads.
|Dark Oolong Sample
|Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe)
|Wu Yi Mountains, Fujian, China
|Cassia Oolong (Roi Gui)
|Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) twisted leaves
Table 2: Some of the Most Well-known Dark Oolongs in the Market
Oxidation Levels: up to 80%
Flavor Profile: Intense
Thanks to the heavy processing, you may catch a hint of spice notes with more body in these oolongs. In a way, they reflect black tea’s usual accents of white sesame, toasted grain, or honey. But they display a more woodsy character instead of the typical red wine fruitiness reminiscent of black.
Since these are the most potent oolongs in the kingdom, they’re a good substitute for coffee. Indeed, they have more caffeine than most oolongs, so if you’re a coffee enthusiast and want to switch to tea, then dark oolongs are a good start.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s light oolong or green oolong. Also dubbed as jade oolong, their process is akin to green tea. Many of these look like the least oxidized tea on the planet — though a bit darker than green tea.
Their rolled-ball shapes or twisted shapes can quickly identify them. Like green tea, light oolong is the least oxidized in the oolong family. Taiwan's oolong industry has produced mostly green oolongs.
The process of making one can be taxing. Though the leaves are less oxidized, they’re heated, rolled, and repeatedly compressed as many as 10 to 40 times. As a result, you get a bewitching aroma shaped in tiny beads.
Color-wise, light oolong stays green as they’re minimally oxidized. Even though the oolong processing methodology is originally from China, Taiwanese tea masters have improved and made it their signature style.
|Light Oolong Sample
|Wen Shan Bao Zhong
|Wu Yi Mountains, Fujian, China
|Dong Ding (Tung Ting)
|Tie Guan Yin ('Iron Goddess of Mercy')
Table 3: Some of the Most Well-known Light Oolongs in the Market
Oxidation Levels: between 10% to 45%
Flavor Profile: fragrant and fresh
Indeed, Taiwan has become synonymous with the best light oolongs in the market today. The island nation’s foggy high mountains provide a perfect cover for the tea leaves from the sun's blistering heat. These high-mountain oolongs (Gao shan) will attract you with their floral scent and wide range of sunny-sweet flavors.
Usually, Taiwan Gao shan teas are named after the mountains where they’re grown. Top of that list is Da Yu Ling, Lishan, and Shan Lin Xi.
For their part, Chinese tea masters, not to be left behind, have produced their version of light oolongs. For instance, you have Tie Guan Yin, which translates to Iron Goddess of Mercy.
By Place of Origin
Map 1: Fujian and Taiwan courtesy of Maps
As tea masters develop their tea brands, the regions from which they grow and process the tea leaves have become identified with a particular type of oolong. Though other countries such as Ceylon, Java, and Korea do produce oolong tea, most oolongs in the world come from China and Taiwan.
Over time, three central regions have risen to the challenge and are considered important historical centers of oolong production. These are:
The island nation may have played catch-up to China’s oolong production industry. Most tea plants in Taiwan are brought from the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian 150 years ago. But you barely notice any semblance of dependence these days. Taiwan tea masters have refined their production techniques so much that they’re making a name for themselves as the best in the world.
However, there’s more to Taiwan’s success than just processing. One key to all that is the terroir. The island may not have as much land coverage as China, but it is blessed with high mountains ideally suited to growing the best cultivars of tea on the planet.
Protected from the piercing rays of the sun and aided by the foggy weather, tea shrubs grow slower than usual in Taiwan’s high mountains, producing sweeter-than-ordinary tastes that carry floral solid aromas. Talk about the merits of cool morning sunshine and afternoon mist combined with the strong winds and rich loam soil.
Some of these high-mountain teas or Gaoshan are grown as high as 5,000 feet (taller than the tallest building on the planet). That explains why they’re relatively rare and pitch prices far bigger than run-of-the-mill oolongs.
Even better, Taiwan’s oolong industry is heavily supported by its government. Thus, they use sustainable means to attain top-quality teas. For one, pesticides and herbicides are discouraged, and tea leaves are plucked by hand — and not by machine as most would.
Small wonder, Taiwan oolong has become a staple in the industry sought by its quality and established as the best on the planet. Attributing their success to mountainous areas, many of these oolongs are named after the mountains where they’re grown. Some of these oolongs are:
|Appeal to the Senses
|Dong Ding(“Frozen Summit” of “Icy Peak”)
|Dong Fang Meiren (“Oriental Beauty”)
Table 4: Four of the Most Famous Taiwan Oolong Teas
Indeed, Taiwan has come of age when it comes to oolong. The green style of oolong is making its mark in the world. This means, however, that you will find less caffeine in them compared to dark oolongs.
If people claim Fujian is the origin of oolong, there’s a lot of truth to that. For centuries and long before Taiwan started its rise as a top producer of quality oolong, the Chinese province has cultivated tea bushes.
Its subtropical climate with dry winters and seasonal summer rains has made it ideal for tea farming. The cool weather comes with plenty of hydration can only mean one thing: slow-growing yet flavorful and nutrient-rich tea plants.
What’s fantastic about Fujian tea is most, if not all, are cliff teas. This means these tea cultivars are grown on mineral-rich cliffs, either on the sides or at the bottom. Such an environment provides protection from natural hazards for the tea bushes. Plus, it translates to a balanced play of sunlight and humidity, resulting in quality oolong.
Fujian oolongs are produced in two regions:
It is highly likely that it’s in the mountains of Wuyi that black tea and oolong tea were invented. Thus, it’s no accident that oolong from this region is dark oolong.
The distinctive terroir of the Wuyi mountainsides has made it very ideal for tea production. These cliff teas, or yán chás are protected by steep mountain gorges and are particularly nutrient-rich, thanks to the mineral-rich soil of the cliffs.
However, production is limited by the expanse of the land, thereby raising tea prices. Some of the most expensive oolongs come from these mountains. For one, Da Hong Pao, a Wuyi tea considered more valuable in weight than even gold, sits atop that list.
Appearance-wise, Wuyi teas are usually twisted into relatively thin strips and not curled in beads. Fired heavily, these dark oolongs carry a smoky flavor with hints of stone fruit.
|Wuyi Mountain Oolong
|Appeal to the Senses
|Da Hong Pao(“Big Red Robe”)
|Shui Jin Gui(“Golden Water Turtle”
|Tieluohan(“Iron Arhat” or “Iron Warrior Monk”)
|Bai Jiguan("White Cockscomb" or “White Rooster”)
Table 5: Four of the Most Famous Fujian Oolong Teas
Another Fujian county that has caught the world’s attention when it comes to oolong production is Anxi. The terroir is essential; Anxi sits in a region approximately 100 meters above sea level with micro-regions such as the Daping tower up to over 1000 meters.
Top of the list of these high-mountain teas is Tieguanyin or “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” one of China’s Ten Famous Tea. So much, a lot of imitation products have been marketed falsely claiming the label. Riding on the well-known varietal, many oolong products from Anxi are sold as Tieguanyin.
|Anxi Mountain Oolong
|Appeal to the Senses
|Tieguanyin (“Iron Goddess of Mercy”)
|Huanjin Gui(“Golden Cassia”)
|Mao Xie(“Hairy Crab”)
Table 6: Four of the Most Famous Anxi Oolong Teas
What’s so special about oolong from the Guangdong province of China? Well, it would surprise you to know that oolong here comes not from tea shrubs but from tea trees.
Let’s qualify that statement. Our idea of tea is we see them as tea bushes. But actually, that’s all because these plants are constantly pruned. If left to their own devices, they can become a tree and grow up to 45 feet tall. Then, it becomes a tree with a bowl-shaped canopy.
That’s what Guangdong tea is all about. Traced back to the Song dynasty (960 - 1279), tea production in the area advanced after a Song emperor was miraculously healed from Guangdong tea. So pleased, he mandated planting these tea trees on the hillsides.
And that’s how Guangdong’s Dancong “Phoenix Mountain” oolong tea came to be known. Dancong is Chinese for “single trunk”, otherwise labeled as “single bush,” and is the tea taken from a tea plant that has grown into a tree at its entire height. In short, these are the tea leaves of one single tea tree.
Such a setup provides a distinct advantage as the roots of these trees can dig deeper into the mineral-rich soils of the famous Phonix Mountain. Dancong oolongs are usually strip-style and notable for their uncanny ability to absorb flavors and fragrances of different fruits and flowers. Thus, they’ve classified by their strong aroma type. Some of the most common are:
- Orange blossom
Due to the popularity of Dancong oolongs, the majority of the oolongs from Guangdong are named as such.
FAQs on the Health Use of Oolong
How does oolong help fight heart disease?
People who drink oolong regularly had lower cholesterol levels compared to those who don’t take the drink, studies show. Also, people with at least one cup of oolong daily exhibited a lower risk of heart disease.
Can oolong help in weight loss?
Oolong has fat-burning effects that can help people lose weight by helping with lipid metabolism. A study has shown that drinking at least four cups of oolong daily helped overweight and obese adults lose weight.
Can oolong help fight cancer?
Oolong has been shown to play a significant role in limiting breast cancer cell growth. Also, it helped the proliferation of tumors. In this sense, it acts just like green tea.
How to identify fake high-mountain Oolong products?
High-mountain oolong from Taiwan tastes exquisite with an alluring, floral scent and sweet flavor. Some sellers brand their products to look like Gaoshan, but the taste will betray their low-quality goods. Authentic high-mountain tea maintains its taste even after numerous steepings. So, if after one steeping, your oolong loses flavor, it’s highly likely fake.
In this regard, it’s best to buy only from well-established sellers who maintain a physical office and offer customer service even after their products are sold.
The world of oolong is vast, and you could quickly lose sight of which is best for you. But with this guide, you should be able to find your way. And enjoy the best oolongs in the market that you and your loved ones deserve.