Oolong tea is a mix between green and black tea, and it has often been called “blue-green tea.” It is harvested when the leaves are partially photosynthesized, anywhere between 10-70%, so it generally has a darker, richer flavor than green tea but a lighter flavor than black tea. Oolong is a familiar taste to anyone who frequents Chinese restaurants, as it is the most frequent tea choice served along with meals.
There are various grades of oolong tea, and it is often considered the most desirable of Chinese teas. Some is served after being dried and packaged, while other variants are aged, producing complex flavors and greater expense to the consumer. Most varieties are roasted after air-drying. They then go through a further drying process before being packaged.
In loose form, oolong looks like little green balls. The term "oolong," taken from the Chinese word Wulan means dragon, and some people say that the balls of tea unfold like dragons exposed to heat.
The tea plants prosper best in mountainous regions with relatively harsh climates. Primarily, oolong is grown in China on Wu-Yi mountain, although teas from the south Fujian province, Tie Guan Yin, are also quite popular. On Wu-Yi, Da Hong Pao is one of the most popular Chinese teas ever.
Since the 1800s, Taiwan has also produced numerous excellent oolong teas. These include Dong Ding and Pouchong. Dong Ding is extremely fragrant and will entice any lover of tea, but it is also quite expensive. Consumers can also buy oolong grown in India and in Vietnam. Darjeeling oolong from India is highly prized.
Tea lovers are often fans of the many varieties of oolong. Most attest that it is not merely the taste but also the fragrance of the tea that lends it such appeal. The flavor varies with different varieties, but many people say that it has a strong initially bitter taste and a sweet, melon-like finish. Oolong tea is thought to be so fragrant because the leaves are harvested when the essential oils are strongest. Others enjoy this tea because the roasting process seems to make it rather gentle on the stomach.
In China, oolong tea was often part of traditional medicine for curing digestive problems. It has also been thought to be of help in headaches. The benefits of green and black tea in modern medicine are thought to come from the presence of antioxidants, which may prove helpful in reducing the effects of aging and in fighting cancer.