Tea Spotlight: Taiwanese Oolong

Taiwan produces some incredible black and green teas, but the country’s biggest claim to fame is most certainly oolong tea. I have traveled to Taiwan five times to study oolong tea and today I would like to introduce you to some of my favorite Taiwanese oolongs and share some information about how they are produced.

Immigrants from Fujian, China brought tea bushes and oolong-making skills with them to Taiwan over two hundred years ago, and these days Taiwan produces many unique varieties of oolong tea. Some are lightly oxidized, such as Wenshan Baozhong, which has a natural floral note and a spirited sweetness. High mountain oolong teas are typically named after the regions in which they are grown. Tea gardens in Lishan and Alishan, among others, often have elevations between 1500 and 2500 meters. Teas produced at these altitudes have amazing complexity, brilliant liquor and a lingering sweet aftertaste due to the cool air and misty weather in the mountains. Another exceptional oolong from Taiwan is called Dong Fang Mei Ren (aka Bai Hao), a higher oxidized tea which usually has a warming “honey-peach” aroma. Dong Ding (Frozen Summit) is a famous tea from central Taiwan’s Nantou county. It traditionally has a medium roast and medium oxidation.

Many different tea plant cultivars are used to make oolong tea in Taiwan. A few of the most common cultivars include: Qing Xin (Green Heart), Tie Guanyin (Iron Goddess, descended from the Fujian bushes), Fo Shou (Buddha’s hand), Jin Xuan (golden lily), and Si Ji Chun (Four Seasons Spring). While they are all the same species, they do have slightly different leaf shapes and flavors. Also, some cultivars will grow better than others in certain areas.

Oolong tea production is a fine art involving many steps. First, carefully selected leaves are withered and bruised to start the oxidization process, then at just the right moment, sometimes 12 to 16 hours later, they will be shaped and fired. Oolong tea is produced in small batches and the flavor profile depends on the length of oxidation, the cultivar used, the weather, and the degree of roasting. Tea makers will often stay awake for 24 to 48 hours to see a batch of oolong tea through all of the production steps. Because of the many variables involved, no two oolongs will ever be exactly the same.

A High Mountain Tea Farm

High Mount Tea Garden

Outdoor Withering of Freshly Picked Leaves

Oudoor Wither

Oxidizing Tea Leaves Indoors

Oxidation

Yours in Tea,

Black-Dragon