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A Beginner’s Complete Guide to the Best Oolong Tea Types on the Planet

A Beginner’s Complete Guide to the Best Oolong Tea Types on the Planet

drink the oolong tea

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

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

Green Tea No oxidation
Yellow Tea No oxidation
White Tea 8% - 15%
Oolong Tea 15% - 80%
Black Tea

Fully oxidized

(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: 


Dark Oolong

  • Dark Oolong

    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 Form Origin
    Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Twisted leaves Wu Yi Mountains, Fujian, China
    Cassia Oolong (Roi Gui) Twisted leaves Guangdong, China
    Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao) twisted leaves Twisted leaves Hsinchu, Taiwan

    Table 2: Some of the Most Well-known Dark Oolongs in the Market


    Oxidation Levels: up to 80%

    Flavor Profile: Intense

    Roasting: Heavy


    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. 


    Light Oolong

  • Light Oolong

    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 Form Origin
    Wen Shan Bao Zhong Twisted leaves Wu Yi Mountains, Fujian, China
    Dong Ding (Tung Ting) Twisted leaves Guangdong, China
    Tie Guan Yin ('Iron Goddess of Mercy') Twisted leaves Hsinchu, Taiwan

    Table 3: Some of the Most Well-known Light Oolongs in the Market

    Oxidation Levels: between 10% to 45%

    Flavor Profile: fragrant and fresh

    Roasting: light


    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

    Fujian, Taiwan and Guangdong courtesy of Maps

    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: 


    Taiwan Oolong Characteristics Appeal to the Senses
    Dong Ding(“Frozen Summit” of “Icy Peak”)
    • Named after the frozen top mountain in central Taiwan (Lugu region, Nantou County)
    • Light oolong
    • 15% to 30% oxidized
    • One of the finest high-grade Taiwan oolongs
    • Made up of a bud and 2 to 3 dark green leaves
    • Sweet and creamy with floral aromas
    • Rich in polyphenols and antioxidants
    • Sought after for tons of health benefits: aid weight loss, help fight cancer and reduce heart disease
    • Dubbed the champagne of Taiwan Oolongs
    • Produced in the Alishan area of Chiayi County
    • Grown at an elevation of 1,000 to 1,400 meters
    • Large rolled leaves/li>
    • Fascinating floral aroma
    • Sweet taste in the mouth
    • Noted for its health benefits
    • Grown near Lishan mountain (north-central region Taiwan)
    • Very similar to Alishan in appearance
    • Grown at election above 1,600 meters
    • Light oolong with pear/pineapple/hohoneysuckle taste
    • Fragrant in aroma
    • Thick, creamy texture
    Dong Fang Meiren (“Oriental Beauty”)
    • From Hsinchu County, Taiwan
    • Insect tea (produced from leaves bitten by the tea jassid insect)
    • Has honey-like taste
    • No bitterness
    • Sweet-tasting beverage
    • Bright reddish-orange in color


    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:


  • Wuyi Mountains

    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 Characteristics Appeal to the Senses
    Da Hong Pao(“Big Red Robe”)
    • Highly prized cliff tea
    • One of four classified as China’s Four Great Tea Cultivars (Si Da Ming Cong)
    • Can retain flavor for nine steepings
    • Unique orchid fragrance with a sweet aftertaste that lingers
    • Brew at 100 °C (212 °F) water
    • Recommended to use purified water for brewing
    • Orange-yellow tea when brewed
    Shui Jin Gui(“Golden Water Turtle”
    • One of China’s four Si Da Ming Cong tea
    • Much less oxidized than other Wuying teas
    • Bright green tea when steeped
    Tieluohan(“Iron Arhat” or “Iron Warrior Monk”)
    • A Si Da Ming Cong tea
    • A light Wuyi tea
    • Intense green leaves
    • Light color tea
    • Full-bodied taste yet supple with gentle floral notes that lingers
    Bai Jiguan("White Cockscomb" or “White Rooster”)
    • A Si Da Ming Cong tea
    • Highly oxidized (60 to 80%)
    • Yellowish to light green leaves

    Table 5: Four of the Most Famous Fujian Oolong Teas



  • Anxi

    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 Characteristics Appeal to the Senses
    Tieguanyin (“Iron Goddess of Mercy”)
    • Processed in green tea style
    • lighter/more subtle than other Anxi oolongs
    • Leaves resist unfurling even up to six steepings
    • Named after Guanyin, Chinese Goddess of Mercy
    • Extensive processing
    • Huge aftertaste
    • Sweet and rich smooth texture
    • Fruity (sometimes berry) taste and aroma
    • Steep at 90–95°C (194–203°F)
    • Taste can vary depending on the Anxi area
    Huanjin Gui(“Golden Cassia”)
    • Premium variety
    • Named after yellow golden color of the tea leaves that carries a unique flowery Osmanthus aroma
    • Similar to Tieguanyin but with much more fragrant flavor
    Mao Xie(“Hairy Crab”)
    • Named after the dark-lined appearance of the leaves
    • More buttery and creamier than traditional Tieguanyin
    • A green finish brings out the saffron notes just td>Tieguanyilike Tieguanyin
    Jin Guanyin
    • Relatively new oolong variety
    • Combination of Tieguanyin and Huanjin Gui
    • Produced by either grafting Huanjin Gui stem to a Tieguanyin rootstock or a Tieguanyin stem to a Huanjin Gui rootstock
    • Can display intense pineapple fruit flavors


    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
    • Orchid
    • Grapefruit
    • Almond 
    • Ginger


    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.


    Wrapping Up


    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. 

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