Category Archives: Oolong tea

Oolong tea: Oriental Beauty

Oriental Beauty

Darjeeling’s cousin. Light, fruity and heavily-oxidised for an oolong.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, ★
Also known as: 东方美人茶, Dongfang Meiren Cha

Oriental Beauty is very highly oxidised, with a few furry tips included. The dry leaf looks a little like two teas blended together. And the taste more closely resembles a light, fruity black tea (such as Darjeeling) than an oolong. A quick look at this tea’s Wikipedia page helps us to explain why:

“Dongfang meiren is the chhiⁿ-sim tōa-phàⁿ (青心大冇) cultivar grown without pesticides to encourage a common pest, the tea green leafhopper (Jacobiasca formosana), to feed on the leaves, stems, and buds. These insects suck the phloem juices of the tea stems, leaves, and buds, producing monoterpene diol and hotrienol which give the tea its unique flavor. The buds then turn white along the edges which gives the tea its alternate name, white tip oolong. The insect bites start the oxidation of the leaves and tips and add a sweet note to the tea.” — Wikipedia.

I can feel the muscatel flavour (reminiscent of grape skin), and a fruitiness similar to that of fruit infusions (or “fruit teas”) in later brews. The medium-tannin, low-caffeine taste lasts for many hours on your tongue after drinking.

Oriental Beauty would appeal to playful tea drinkers. These are the tea-drinkers who like to add fruit, nuts, popcorn and milky flavours to the leaf, or even create their own tea-blends. In producing this tea, the farmers have done exactly that: they’ve introduced insect species with the specific intention of altering the tea’s flavour. Personally, I prefer simplicity.

I’ll give this tea two stars, but those who prefer black teas, dark teas, fruit teas and rooibos infusions could possibly give it all five. ★★

Oolong tea: Tieguanyin (Iron Buddha Tea)

Tieguanyin

Exhilarating flavour profiles that build with age.
Oolong tea » Southern Fujian » Iron Buddha Teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 铁观音, Iron Goddess (of Mercy).

Fresh Tieguanyin is very grassy. Its leaves are a luminescent green and brew into a tippy, caffeine-and-nutrient-rich yellow-green broth. Most people don’t drink fresh Tieguanyin because it’s supposedly bad for your stomach, but if you live in China, you can ask your local tea merchant to brew some for you. Sip some and you’ll feel like it’s brushed your mouth with an entire bunch of watercress! (It’s a fun experience, but just taste it—I don’t suggest buying any.)

Six-month-old Tieguanyin tastes just right. It’s grassy, but not overpoweringly so. The leaves are a slightly darker green but still ‘jade-coloured’. The nutrients (including caffeine and catechins, which are very, very abundant in this tea) are still present and the mouthfeel is still complex. After six months, the sharp taste has developed into a smoother, blunter, creamier feel. Like the Taiwan Dong Ding tea I reviewed, Tieguanyin is a perfect choice for drinking at work. I’m drinking it now.

Older Tieguanyin tastes even more oxidised. The dry leaves will have unfurled and will have turned a disappointing brown colour. In my experience, these leaves also turn bitter much more easily than the young ones. As a fan of less-oxidised teas, I like my Tieguanyin while it’s still green.

So don’t buy Tieguanyin that you can’t see (e.g. if it’s boxed then shrink-wrapped in plastic). Invariably, these are the lowest-quality over-oxidised tea leaves packaged into (sometimes very nice) boxes by unscrupulous tea traders. They are the fruit-equivalent of compost. Aged Tieguanyin might be cheap, but it is a total waste of money—I’ve even known it to put novice tea-tasters off oolong teas as a whole. Only drink Tieguanyin with a jade-coloured leaf.

Find a good-quality Tieguanyin and you could drink it daily. But store it properly (cool and airtight but not near food); buy a little at a time (no more than 6 months’ supply); and drink it seasonally (look out for your local tea merchant’s posters that read, “Spring Fujian Teas Coming Soon/Now In Stock!” and buy some). Every tea-lover should have at least a little Tieguanyin in their tea collection. Classic. 

Oolong tea: “Oolong Formosa”

Dong Ding Oolong

Unidentified dummy oolong. Maybe a dead Dong Ding.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, ★★

Hmm. The nomenclature’s incomplete. My local tea merchant labelled it lazily as “Oolong Formosa”. But “Formosa” means “Taiwan”, which tells us only the genus of the tea but not its species. (The same merchant sells other teas from Taiwan such as Dong Ding and Oriental Beauty, which are labelled correctly.) So I set about discovering what this mystery “Oolong Formosa” really is.

It looks like any other oolong tea with a tight curl and a relatively unoxidised leaf (about 40%, I’d say). But when I brew it, it lacks the fragrance and freshness I’d expect after examining at the leaf—the brew gives me mouthfeel but no flavour. It certainly cleansed my palate, but didn’t really leave me with any taste.

I think this mystery tea is a lower-quality pluck of Dong Ding (a Taiwan Oolong). The leaf is indistinguishable, but the pluck contains more stems. “Oolong Formosa” carries more undesirable fizziness and grittiness, and while it does give the mineral-induced mouthfeel of a quality oolong, it just tastes fake.

Oolong Formosa” is priced just a little lower than Dong Ding. Needless to say, I strongly recommend getting the real deal (Dong Ding) instead of this sleepy impostor just for the sake of a few dollars more. Dong Ding is worth every cent. Don’t skimp. ★★

Oolong tea: Dong Ding

Dong Ding Oolong

Very slightly tangy. Alert yet aloof.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Taiwan, 
Also known as: 冻顶乌龙茶

Dong Ding has the characteristic ‘buttery sensation’ (of course, without a buttery taste) that underlies all good oolong teas. This arises as the tightly-knotted leaves unfurl and change the mineral composition of the water.

This particular oolong is special for its subtle notes of tangy orange, peach and lychee. There’s a very slight acidity that tickles your mouth and leaves you feeling very refreshed (I’m tempted to replace ‘tangy orange’ with ‘lemonade’). The caffeine and catechin content is very high in this tea, so it makes you feel alert but not shaky. Dong Ding oolong tea makes you feel effortlessly energetic yet slightly automatic. It’s perfect for work.

I used to drink this tea when I taught 8 noisy English classes in China. Between classes, I’d go to the hot water machine and re-fill my mug of Dong Ding oolong tea. (Chinese tea stores can pack your chosen tea into convenient 7-gram packages).

Eventually, this tea loses its fragrance and gains astingency. Brewed gongfu style, the second and third brews are the most pleasant because the flavours need several minutes to unfurl out of the leaves. Unfortunately, for $380/kg (1300 RMB per 500g), I would expect fewer stems—or even none at all—and many more buds in the mix. On the bright side, the stems and rugged tertiary leaves in this pluck allow you to brew it all day, at the end of which, you’re drinking an inexhaustible broth of tea-stems with barely any colour. Dong Ding brews forever. It makes you work harder, and it makes you keep drinking. Take it to work. 

Oolong tea: Fenghuang Dancong

Fenghuang Dancong

Tastes naturally of honey and expensive flowers. Exquisite bouquet.
Oolong tea » Traditional » Guangdong » Mt. Phoenix, ★★★★★
Also known as: 凤凰单丛, Phoenix Single-Bush, Oolong Dancong

Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Single-Bush) has hints of honey, vanilla, osmanthus and pomelo over a lightly-oxidized oolong leaf. This tea is grown on the protected slopes of Mt. Phoenix in China’s Guangdong Province. Like champagne, only tea produced in this region can legally be called Fenghuang Dancong, making this tea special, rare and expensive.

I generally like the greener, fresher, less-oxidized oolong teas—in fact, the more oolongs resemble green tea, the better, in my opinion. But Fenghuang Dancong is special: despite its purple-brown leaf colour, the brew doesn’t taste particularly oxidised at all. It tastes smooth, light and floral, and there’s no bitterness. It’s extremely fragrant, not just with flowery overtones, but with fruity undertones (think about peeling a warm pomelo with honey on your lips) that are soothing and slightly warming to drink, as well. It’s a sexy tea.

I love how the level of sweetness matches the level of fruitiness. It delivers the same amount of fruit to the palate as it promises to the nose. Don’t brew it too cold, as the flavours need to be persuaded out of the leaf (by 85 degree water) and there’s no bitterness to be afraid of. This is my favourite tea. Goldilocks. ★★★★★