An article on Oolong tea from "The Epoch Times"
Oolong tea is not merely tasty, but its flavenoids also mobilize one's inner energy. As various ancient Chinese legends have described, the name oolong means "Black Dragon" or "Black Snake." One of these stories describes how a tea plantation owner had such a fright after glimpsing a black snake that he wouldn’t go near his already picked tea leaves for several days. When he finally and carefully ventured back to collect the leaves, moisture and the sun had done their work—oxidation had taken place. Frugal as he was, he did not want to waste the fermented leaves, so he took them home and brewed a pot of tea. To his astonishment, he was rewarded with a marvelously fragrant beverage.
Thea sinensis and Thea assamica are the two types of plants from which tea is derived. Thea sinsensis is the species which all Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs are based upon, as well as green and other common Chinese/Taiwanese teas. Thea assamica, commonly known as "Assam tea," mostly grown in India, is a beverage with completely different flavors from those of Chinese tea.
After picking, it is necessary for the leaves to wilt in the sun. Then, they are stored in a room, routinely shaken, and lofted in bamboo sieves. This process breaks down the cell structure at the leaves' edges and the emerging oxygen reacts with the air. The resulting darker coloured leaves attest to the effect of fermentation, which is now visible, as the tea leaves have reached the desired degree of fermentation.
Heating the leaves in iron pans, the next step, stops the fermentation process. The range of flavors of the tea, which depends on quality, goes all the way from fruity-flowery to almost malt-like. Since oolong tea is half fermented, the palate recognizes it as a beverage tasting somewhere between a green and a black tea. The same leaves can be brewed several times, but each brewing leads to an increasingly weaker beverage.
The best quality oolong tea is grown and processed in Taiwan. The highest quality and costliest is most commonly found in the Taiwanese Province of Nantou.
In the past few years the medical community and nutrition experts have hailed the health benefits of green tea, particularly oolong. Scientific research has borne out the effects of oolong tea's abilities to minimize specific health problems and prevent certain illnesses. It is particularly beneficial for the circulatory system and effective against stomach upsets.
The Island of Taiwan, with an area of 36,000 square kilometers, is located approximately 200 kilometers south of the Chinese mainland. Taiwan's annual export of oolong tea plays a key role in the economy. Taiwan got its first tea plants from Fujian Province in the middle of the 17th century. Nantou, the island's chief tea growing region, has optimum conditions for successful tea crops, for it has the right combination of good soil, fog, and sunshine. These climatic conditions are needed to produce prime teas. The broad high valleys make tea growing possible up to an elevation of 2,400 meters. The town of Loku is in the prime tea growing region. Loku also contains the oldest tea museum.
According to traditional Chinese tea ceremony etiquette, people are supposed to sit upright, empty their minds, and move slowly when preparing and serving tea. In addition, it is considered beneficial to prepare and consume the tea in pleasant surroundings. Let's hope this pleasant custom continues on to benefit future generations.
By Walter Kircki