What’s in a name? For native-Chinese oolongs, it’s a reference to a time when dragons walked the earth and surfed the skies. The word “oolong” means “dark dragon”. When the very first oolong came into being, it sported inky, twisted leaves whose sharp arches bore an uncanny resemblance to the mythical creature’s wings. Just as dragons are a rare sight today, oolongs are as well. Whereas black and green teas are often in the spotlight, this so-called “blue tea” family tends to recede into the shadows. A mere handful of regions produce oolongs – namely Fujian, Canton, Taiwan, and southeast Asia – a dynamic which contributes to the tea’s relative mystery. Making oolongs is no small undertaking. Its production process is intricate and elaborate, honed over centuries through the careful work of dedicated tea masters.
It takes something of an avid tea drinker to appreciate this delicacy, as you’ll scarcely find a tea novice reaching for an oolong to brew. Of course, there are levels to its complexity. Oolongs undergo partial oxidation, a chemical process wherein the plant’s cell walls break down and receive oxygen exposure. The resultant tea leaves are darker, more aromatic, and delightfully sapid. The degree of oxidation in each oolong differs from one variety to the next. Levels can fall anywhere from 10% to 80%, with the former more reminiscent of green teas and the latter more like black teas.
Those who favor green teas are sure to enjoy less oxidized oolongs such as our Beads of Gratitude N°409, a Tie Guan Yin. The name Tie Guan Yin directly translates to “Iron Goddess of Mercy”, and with good reason – the tale of this tea’s origin involves the deity for which it’s named. One legend claims that the story begins at a rundown temple in Anxi County. At this temple stood a statue of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. One day, a poor farmer who typically passed this temple on his daily trek to his tea fields was compelled to fix its disheveled state. He sprung into action, sweeping the temple clean and lighting incense as an offering. So became his daily ritual until months later. Guanyin appeared to him in a dream and told him about a hidden treasure, a gift she’d left as a thank you. The following day the farmer found a small tea plant, which he planted in his field and cultivated until it became the finest tea in the region. Grateful for this gift, he named the tea Tie Guan Yin after the goddess. The finished brew is ethereal like the deity for which it’s named, a flush of sweet grapes, cream, and orchid.
The next oolong is strikingly similar to Tie Guan Yin in style; the main difference in manufacturing between the two is the tea plant variety used. This is one of the vital aspects that distinguishes oolongs from other tea families. Oolongs are generally named and categorized according to the plant variety used, while black teas for example, are highly standardized and mainly differ in regards to the tea’s origins. So for this sister variety to our oolong goddess, we have a floral oolong hailing from Taiwan. Four Seasons of Spring N°402 is a daily favourite oolong in Taiwan with the iconic oolong shape – tightly balled, deep green leaves bursting with unctuous flavor. Ours is no ordinary oolong, however. Its strong floral character tantalizes the palate with tasting notes of milky sweetness.
The next oolong shares commonalities with aforementioned two as well, but exhibits an unmistakable milkiness as well. Our Clarity milky oolong is a Jin Xuan cultivar that originated in the hills of Northern Thailand. Its cultivation and production have infused elements of Chinese and Taiwanese tea-making into their own praxis, as the two tea giants exported their culture to the world. Unlike some other teas, however, Clarity exudes a delectable milkiness which naturally arises from the tea plant. Alternatively, other teas may achieve this same taste by scenting with milk steam. As you enjoy notes of sweet greens, orchid, and cream allow the rich flavors blossom and carry songs of cloudless days that open you to valleys of awareness. Such are the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the zen master with whom this tea was created. When enjoyed with the energy of mindfulness and true presence, we can experience a profound, awakened connection with ourselves, our bodies, and our beloved Mother Earth.
Mother Earth’s gifts aren’t reserved for just milky leaves and towering treetops, they extend all the way to molecular minutiae. Take for example the gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) – scientifically linked to enhanced memory retention and calmer nerves. From this molecule comes the remarkably prosaic name, Gabacha N°405. This strain of tea exhibits welcoming, naturally occurring nerve-calming qualities, with a flavor profile to match. The golden-brown cup brims with fruity notes ranging from apple to pomegranate, rounded out by the warmth of nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices of the winter-warming variety. These notes are a result of the high-temperature roasting which the tea leaves experience during manufacturing to accentuate the tea’s sweet notes. The final brew has a wonderful warm, mellow buttery aroma making for the “light version of a black tea” and a consummate feel-good libation.
Dark oolongs are so named for their high oxidation levels, inching closer still to black teas. Take for example our Oriental Beauty N°403, the most oxidized of our oolong offering. The tea plant is yet another marvel of nature, as its cultivation relies on a symbiotic relationship with fauna in the terroir where it grows. At its home in Taiwan, this tea plant grows alongside a particular grasshopper. The insect’s avid nibbling kick-starts the tea’s early oxidation. In response, the plant produces a series of chemical compounds which dissuade the grasshopper from feasting any further. This peculiar dynamic accounts for the complexity in flavors and the generally unique cultivation of this prized jewel. It’s only fitting that royalty has taken to this gem as well – Queen Victoria dubbed this her favorite tea and named it as well. When brewing this oolong’s colorful white-tipped leaves, anticipate tasting notes of fruity, peach, and citrus.
For those drawn to this burst of fruity flavor, reach for Chang-E Forever N°408, a fragrant oolong blend with osmanthus petals. According to Chinese legend, the osthmanthus was brought to the mortal world by Chang-e, a beautiful princess condemned to the moon in immortal solitude for betraying her warrior husband. A symbol of eternal beauty and one of China’s ten sacred flowers, the osmanthus petals delight with a divine bouquet and a range of complex flavours. Intensely aromatic, this expert blend pits layers of melon, apricot and dried fruit against deeper milky notes with a hint of lily.