Oolong Tea History
My favorite time of year is spring as I prepare to head to Asia on another tea exploration - harvest selection. Remember to follow my Asian Tea Trip via the Tea Blog. I am excited about the portion of the trip that will take me to the mountains of Taiwan, oolong country. Oolongs, one of my favorite categories of tea, vary widely in taste character, have terrific benefits and can be brewed numerous times making them a great value.
A tea competition held in Taiwan this past August had more than 750 participants from 15 countries. The competition included six categories of tea; green, white, yellow, red, black and of course oolong teas. Pressed teas produced after 2000 such as Pu’erh were included in the black tea category. Excluded from the competition were aged teas and teas grown with chemical fertilizers.
The two stage judging began with a preliminary selection done by tea experts and scholars from Taiwan who passed two hundred ninety three teas through to the final judging. An international panel of judges including tea experts from Japan, Korea and Taiwan were responsible for the final tasting.
In the final stage, judges tasted thirty teas in each sitting selecting the best from that lot deciding on the various teas ranking. Teas were judged by the following criteria;
- Dry leaf shape, pre brewed
- Color of the brewed liquid aka liquor
- Brewed tea aroma
- Wet leaf, post brewed
Gold, silver and bronze prizes were awarded in each category.
The tea chosen as the “World’s Best” was awarded a cash prize equivalent to $30,000. Mr. Lin Zhao Bin a twenty eight year old farmer from Nantou County, Taiwan submitted an exceptional, smooth oolong tea with an abundance of flavor according to the panel of judges. Mr. Lin believes that it’s the utilization of organic farming methods, high altitude and climate that elevate the quality of his tea.
OOLONG GROWING REGIONS AND TEA TYPES
Taiwan is renowned for its high mountain oolongs grown in a region that spans thru several counties in the center of this small island. Nantou, the only landlocked county in Taiwan, is the largest producer of high mountain oolong teas.
High mountain oolongs are harvested only three times a year. The altitude and climatic conditions cause the teas to grow more slowly than their lower grown counterparts which are harvested up to six times per year. Tung Ting oolong, grown on Dong Ding Mountain is one example of a Nantou county high mountain oolong tea that yieldssuperb flavor and numerous infusions.
OTHER OOLONG GROWING REGIONS
Fanciest Formosa, or Bai Hao, oolong and Plum Blossom, or Oriental Beauty, oolongs are grown in Miao Li and Hsinchu counties on the northwest coast of the island. Produced for us by a third generation tea master that has won several Bai Hao competitions, these teas are grown at elevations of 500 - 1000 meters and are darker with deeper body, smooth character and hints of peach.
Located in south east Taipei county lies one of the island's most important northern growing region. With an abundance of rain fall, high humidity and mist covered peaks; this area produces one of my personal favorite oolongs,Wenshen Bao Zhong. Grown at elevations of up to 1200 meters this large leaf (not rolled like the Tung Ting) green oolong has exceptional fruit tones and a light lingering on the palate and is remarkably refreshing.
Tea masters are artisans who ply their trade after many years of practice and apprenticeship passed down from one generation to the next. The varied characteristics of oolong teas are created by the tea master’s watchful eye closely monitoring the length of oxidation, careful bruising of the leaf, rolling (depending on the type of oolong), proper drying and every minuet aspect of production.
These teas have been consumed in China, Taiwan and Japan (one of the biggest buyers of Taiwan oolong tea) for centuries for their cleansing and digestive benefits. One of the most notable properties of oolong tea is its ability to increase resting metabolism greater than any other tea type. These findings come from studies done by US Agriculture Research Services' Diet and Human Laboratory, in 2001 and a Japanese scientific study conducted in 2003.
The great benefits, terrific value and delicious taste of this unique and varied category of tea should be enough to prompt you to experience oolong tea. But if that is not enough motivation, check out this month’s subscriber special for exclusive savings. Remember to join me in the tea gardens of China and Taiwan by visiting the tea blog.