Oolong tea is less oxidised than black tea, but more oxidised than green tea and white tea. How oxidised a tea is will greatly influence the taste and properties of the tea. An oxidation process will begin as soon as the tea leaf has been picked from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), but if the leaf is immediately treated, e.g. by being steamed or fried, the oxidation will halt. When Black tea is created, the tea leaves are allowed to undergo a very long time of oxidation, while White tea is immediately treated to avoid any oxidation at all. The Oolong tea and the Green tea fall in the middle between these two extremes. The oxidation process will not only affect the taste, but properties such as caffeine and antioxidant content too.
The taste of the Oolong tea is more similar to Green tea than Black tea, but the flavour is less grassy than the one commonly experienced when drinking Green teas. When the Oolong tea has undergone the different stages of preparation it will have a black coloration and the leaves will be somewhat thread-shaped.
In countries outside East Asia, people often have their first encounter with Oolong tea at Chinese restaurants since this tea is commonly served together with Chinese food.
Oolong is a Chinese tea, but today you can also get Oolong tea that has grown in the Darjeeling region of India.
The name Oolong means “Black dragon” or “Black snake” in Chinese, and several Chinese legends try to explain the origin of this name.
One story is centred around a man named Wu Liang. According to legend, he was distracted by a deer when he was preparing his newly picked tea leaves, and when he finally remembered his task his leaves had already begun to oxidise.
The name Wu Liang was later transformed into Wu Long and eventually Oolong. Others claim that the name Oolong is based on the fact that dried Oolong leaves resembles small black Chinese dragons. When you pour hot water over your “dragons”, they will wake up.
There is also a legend telling the story about an man who was scared away from his tea leaves by a black snake. Just as in the legend above, he did not return to his tea leaves until they had become oxidised.