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You could say that oolong is something between green and black tea. Taking the best of both worlds, oolong combines the fresh, natural flavours of green teas with some of the fulness of black ones. Oolong teas are more potent than their green counterparts and lighter than the black ones as they are only partially oxidised.

The difference is substantial between lightly oxidised oolong teas, such as Dung Ti or Bao Zhong, and heavily oxidised ones, like Da Hong Pao or Fenghuang Dancong. In the greenest variants, the light oxidation can give a sense of the natural green tones being elevated, along with an added touch of flowery aromas. They are often more rounded and gentler than green teas. The darker variants have similarities with black teas but are often gentler and more rounded, with roasted and nutty characteristics. Some of the best ones also have a fine and sweet touch of peach, raisins, or apricot. Ti Guan Yin is an example of a variant in between the greenest and darkest ones. All oolong teas are perfectly suitable to be cooled down and served at room temperature or as ice tea. They can also be flavoured with flowers or fruits, as is common to do in both Taiwan and China.

The word (wulong in pinyin) is Chinese for black dragon or black snake and, as always, there are various legends that describe the origins of the name. In one, a tea plantation owner is frightened by a black snake and runs away from his drying leaves. When he cautiously returns after a few days, the leaves had oxidised in the sun, providing a new brew, rich in flavour. Another tale tells of a man named Wu Liang (later morphing into Wu Long or Oolong) who accidentally discovered oolong tea as he got distracted by a deer after a long day of picking tea. When he finally remembered his leaves, they had already started oxidising. Others say that the tea is called oolong because the leaves look like little black dragons waking up when water is poured over them.

Oolong variants are typically described in degrees of oxidation. The complexity of the craftsmanship that goes into the oxidising process makes it somewhat of a mystery how a tea can be categorised as 35 or 72 percent oxidised, as they often are, but nonetheless it presents a good benchmark for consumers. Ten percent would, in other words, be a lightly oxidised tea, while 60 percent would be considered heavily oxidised. The colour of the leaves, which becomes more prominent after brewing, also tells the tale of oxidation degree. Oolong originates from Mount Wuyi in the Fujian province, where it was cultivated in the late years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). As many people moved from Fujian to Taiwan, they brought both the plant and the skills required to make the tea. Today, oolong is practically the only tea that is consumed in Taiwan.