Like all true teas, oolong tea is a varietal of the evergreen Camellia sinensis bush. As is the case with all fine teas, oolong tea’s unique flavor profile is a direct result of how it is cultivated, where it is grown (including elevation and climate), and above all, how it is processed. Oolong tea thrives in cool, lush, highly elevated regions, and is native to China.
But unlike most teas of the world, oolong is a relative newcomer, developed in Formosa (Taiwan) and in the Fujian province of China sometime before or during the sixteenth century. The exact timeline of origins of oolong tea is shrouded in mystery, but it is known that the name “oolong” means “black dragon” in Chinese, in reference to the long, twisted leaf forms.
Oolong gains its alluring character and flavor through a meticulous, multi-step process that begins with withering and a brief oxidation in direct sunlight. As soon as the leaves give off a specific distinctive fragrance—often compared to apples or peaches—this stage is halted. Next the leaves are rolled, and then fired to halt oxidation when it is about halfway between black and green tea. The caffeine content is also midway between black and green teas.
Chinese oolong teas are often quite green and floral. Alternatively, Oolong tea from Taiwan, known as Formosan oolongs, are oxidized and fired for a longer period of time and brew a more ripe, fruity cup.
There is some debate among scholars about when oolong tea was first cultivated, and how it came to be known as oolong or “black dragon” tea. It is believed that oolong tea originated sometime around the 16th century Ming Dynasty, and both Taiwan and China claim that they were the first to grow and harvest the tea.
Some historians believe that oolong had a predecessor called “Beiyuan tea,” which was used as a tribute tea for more than 1,000 years in China’s Fujian province. Tribute teas were given as gifts to the emperor or royal family. For hundreds of years, tea in this region was served as a compressed cake. Eventually this compressed style of tea went out of fashion among the region’s royalty, and a new partially oxidized loose leaf tea was developed. This new style of tea had leaves that were long, dark, and twisted, resembling the shape of a mysterious Chinese dragon. Thus, it was called “wulong” or “oolong” tea, meaning “Black Dragon tea.”
Other scholars believe that oolong tea was first discovered by a Chinese farmer named Wu Liang during the Qing dynasty. As the story goes, Wu Liang was picking tea leaves when he was distracted by an approaching deer. Instead of processing the tea leaves immediately, he stored the tea leaves away and chose to hunt the deer. When he returned to process the tea leaves, he found that they had been partially oxidized while he was away. Intrigued by their unique aroma, he processed the tea and drank it, savoring its rich, sweet flavor. As the legend of Wu Liang was passed down over the years, his name was misheard as Wu Long or Oolong, giving the tea its name.
Both stories of origin take place in the same cool, lush, mountainous region of China, which leads most scholars to believe that this was true origin of oolong tea. It is believed that oolong tea was first imported to Taiwan in the early 1800s, where it was successfully grown and processed. In the mid-nineteenth century, tea growers began using a more streamlined production process, allowing oolong tea to become the most widely exported tea from Taiwan.
Oolong tea contains a moderate amount of caffeine—less caffeine than black tea, but more than green tea. Sip oolong tea in the morning for a burst of light, refreshing energy. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, avoid oolong before bedtime in favor of a caffeine-free herbal tea.
Oolong tea is renowned for its many health benefits, and is regarded as a “weight loss tea” by several cultures. Abundant in antioxidants, oolong is thought to shield the body from free radicals, diseases, and even cancer. One study in modern medicine found that women who drink 2 or more cups of tea per day—including oolong tea—may cut their risk of ovarian cancer in half.*
Thanks to its moderate caffeine content, oolong has proven to be effective for boosting mental alertness and revitalizing the mind. There is some evidence that oolong tea may also aid in weight loss, digestion, and treating diabetes and skin allergies.*
Steeping is Easy
- Fill the kettle with fresh, filtered water and heat to a rolling boil.
- If using a tea bag, steep tea for 3-5 minutes. If using full-leaf tea, use one teaspoon of leave leaves and steep for 5-7 minutes. For either method, use 6oz heated water per cup.
- Enjoy Sip by Sip.
Oolong tea’s rich, sweet, fruity and floral flavor makes it a wonderful ingredient for preparing tasty homemade dishes and drinks. It pairs nicely with seafood, citrus, desserts, and fruit flavors, but we love to experiment and discover new and unique recipes that can be created with oolong tea leaves.
For a tropical twist on iced tea, try our Milk Oolong Pineapple Refresher.
Learn more about our selection of fine oolong teas, including our Full-Leaf Loose Milk Oolong Tea, harvested from the high mountainous region of China’s Fujian province, and Full-Leaf Loose Wuyi Oolong Tea, grown in the high hills of the western shores of Taiwan.
We invite you to sip and explore the sublime poetry that is a cup of oolong from The Republic of Tea. Browse our full selection of Chinese and Taiwanese oolong teas here.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.