Oolong tea was developed in the 18th century in Fujian province, initially attributed to the loyal family or emperor. Due to its distinct flavor and fewer restrictions, it gained popularity and was eventually transported to other provinces and countries. Fujian’s favorable climate, with ample water and sunshine, makes it an ideal location for tea cultivation. The tea industry in Fujian, including Oolong tea, contributes significantly to the local economy, generating billions of dollars in profit each year.
Local residents in Fujian have a preference for Oolong tea, which they sometimes call “Kongfu tea.” This name doesn’t refer to martial arts but signifies that appreciating Oolong is considered an art that requires time to fully savor.
Oolong Tea Processing Steps
Oolong Tea is processed using 5 steps:
- Stir Fixation
Typically, one bud and 3-4 leaves are plucked during the early spring. Leaves plucked between noon and 4 pm are preferred because the sun’s evaporation has reduced their water content, aiding in preserving flavor.
Withering and Fermentation
The plucked leaves are withered in the sun to activate enzymes. As water evaporates, the leaves become more pliable. Oolong tea is unique in that it undergoes simultaneous withering and fermentation, resulting in a half-fermented tea that retains the fresh flavor of green tea and the mellow aftertaste of black tea.
Enzymatic oxidation is initiated by placing withered leaves in a squeezing machine. This step oxidizes the leaves, making them harder and changing their color to yellow.
The tea leaves are spread on the floor to cool down. During this process, the leaves become soft again, and their edges turn red. Experienced workers explain that this step helps release the tea’s essence gained during squeezing, akin to the leaves “working out.”
The softened leaves are shaped into small, wrinkled strips for storage or delivery. Different regions employ varying drying methods, with sunshine drying being common. Sunshine drying preserves the tea’s distinct flavor through spontaneous fermentation.
Handmade vs. Machine-Made
The tea industry in Fujian blends both modern and traditional techniques, with small workshops coexisting alongside large factories. For novice tea drinkers, there might not be a significant difference between hand and machine-made tea. However, some consumers still prefer handmade varieties. Ultimately, the way you drink and appreciate the tea can be just as important as the tea itself.