Oolong tea can be described as a hybrid between the green and black varieties as its process incorporates elements from these two cousins- semi-oxidized and all. Not to mention the fact that the leaves of oolong tea are green with a tinge of red on the side to accentuate this marriage of two different types. (If you understand the Chinese language you would know that lapsang souchong, Darjeeling etc are actually classified as ‘red tea’ in Chinese)
*Image taken from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lekyu
Origins of Oolong
Oolong tea- also known as ‘dark green tea’ in Chinese- was believed to have begun during the early part of the 17th century in the province of Fujian. There are 3 common legends how oolong begun.
Legend number one
The first version told of a hunter by the name of Wu Liang who discovered a flourishing tea tree and plucked off a branch and stored in his backpack. Then he continued on his hunt.
That night, when he brought his prey home and cooked it for dinner, a gust of wind blew the tea leaves into his broth and immediately a strong aroma was emitted. Wu Liang then added boiling water to the leaves and was instantly captivated by the strong flavorful tea.
The next day, Wu Liang went off to the same tea tree and gathered a bunch of leaves home. This time, the tea tastes bitter and had none of the alluring fragrance Wu Liang enjoyed the previous day. After mulling over this for a few days, he came to the realization that the tea leaves had underwent abrasion, vibration and would have been damaged during the action of his hunt the first time. He deduced that the act of rubbing the tea leaves must had an effect on the leaves.
He experimented with it and finally managed to research a methodology to process the tea leaves, rubbing them lightly to speed up the oxidization process. Thereafter the tea became much beloved for its strong aroma and rich flavor. Because Wu Liang sounded like ‘Oolong’ in the local dialect, the name oolong stuck for that type of tea.
Legend number two
Legend number two was popular among the Wuyi folklore. It speaks of a man Yang Tai Bai who had gathered a basket full of tea leaves. On the way home, he was fatigued and took a nap by road side.
When he woke up, the sun shone brightly on the leaves and caused them to bunch together. In his panic, Yang hurriedly stirred the leaves to separate them and a fragrance was emitted. Though the leaves looked ruined, Yang felt it was too fragrant to waste.
When he got home, he brewed tea with the strange looking leaves and the fragrance was simply bewitching.
The next day, Yang went to pluck more tea leaves and in a moment of inspiration decided to stir the leaves repeatedly. Sure enough, the same fragrance surface and the rest was history.
Legend Number Three
Yet another legend has it that there was a rebellion in northern Fujian and the courts sent many soldiers to suppress it. After a bloodbath, the rebels fled to Mount Wuyi and given their familiarity with the lands managed to flee from the Imperial Army.
The Imperial Army went on a wild goose chase and were exhausted. They rested at the abode of a tea farmer, in their lethargy, they slept on the tea leaves that the farmers had gathered. Seeing their imposing mannerism, the farmers dared not say a word and could only wait until they deigned to leave at nightfall.
To the farmers’ surprise, when they examined the leaves, there was a tinge of red at the edge of the leaves. As they gathered the leaves, a strong aroma was emitted. The farmers then brewed tea with the leaves and were startled at how much better the tea tasted.
They then experimented with processing tea leaves and after several iterations, the method that was passed down until today was found.
The Name Oolong
Though none of the legends could be confirmed, it was pretty certain the processing method was discovered by chance and the origin was from Fujian province.
For the second and the third legend, it was believed oolong got its name as the farmers claim the shape of the process tea leaves resembles a dragon and because of its dark tone, it was called ‘black dragon’ or oolong.
Whichever legend is true, we are grateful for the discovery of oolong. The fragrant, aroma brew, without which our lives would be that much more lacking.