Tea is the national drink of China and it is offered in a rainbow of colours. Green tea is widely enjoyed, with Yellow, White, Oolong, Black and Dark (fermented) teas extending the colour spectrum.
In the UK, black tea is favoured and very little is known about Oolong and White teas. Let’s discover some of the traditions, processes and flavour pairings that surround these Chinese favourites.
What is Oolong Tea?
Believed to have originated in the Beiyuan Tea Gardens, Oolong tea grows in mountainous terrain. It thrives in Taiwan and China’s Fujian and Guangdong Provinces.
Oolong sits between black and green teas in both flavour and aromatic qualities. When picked, leaves are withered before being partially oxidised in the sun. This can be as little as 15% or as much as 85% of the oxidisation used to process black tea.
Lower oxidation results in a light, floral taste, whilst fuller body and fruity or nutty flavours are achieved through higher oxidation. The leaves are traditionally processed over charcoal or wood and the long leaves are bruised, rolled and compressed to form loose leaf tea.
Oolong tea cannot be confined to a teabag. When steeped in water, the long leaves need space to unfurl and release their flavour. Once open, the leaves can be brewed several times, so one spoonful can produce multiple cups of tea. This is good news, as in China, Oolong is said to aid weight loss and enhance natural beauty!
The distinctive flavour of Oolong teas makes them a perfect pairing for smoked meats, cheeses and seafood. For dessert, they compliment fruity puddings and chocolate.
Oolong and the Gong Fu Cha Chinese Tea Ceremony
Traditionally, Oolong tea is associated with the Gong Fu Cha Chinese tea ceremony. Developed in the Qing Dynasty, this is a mindful process; the careful preparation of the drink is the only point of focus.
A dedicated Oolong teapot is used, as this ensures that the flavours are not contaminated by other teas. Poured into small cups, the tea is sipped and slurped. This may seem like bad manners, however, it aerates the tea, releasing the full complexity of delicate flavours.
Tea Recommendations: What Oolong should I Try?
Holy Cow Home currently stocks two Oolong Teas. Our Wuyi Oolong has an earthy, slightly smoked flavour, which might appeal if you enjoy Lapsang souchong and Assam. Milk Oolong has a sweet and creamy flavour. This is one of my favourites and it is generally more palatable to western tastebuds.
What is White Tea?
White tea is picked in early spring when the youngest, freshest buds have yet to open into leaves. They are quickly dried, with minimal oxidisation and processing. The fact that they are not bruised, crushed or rolled results in a delicately flavoured tea.
In Chinese traditions, loose leaf white tea was known as Imperial tea. This is because it was presented to the Emperors as an annual gift; much like a form of tax.
Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen), is considered the purest type of loose-leaf white tea. This is grown exclusively in the Fuijan Province of China. Another leading variety is White Peony, also known as Pai Mu Dan.
White tea is designed to be sipped and savoured like a fine wine, not gulped as a thirst-quenching drink. It can take a few tastings to get used to the subtle taste. Then you may detect the floral, herby base with sweet honey and peach tones.
Due to its light flavour, white tea is easily overpowered by many foods. It works well as a palate-cleansing pre-meal drink. In terms of food pairings, try it with white fish or that afternoon tea classic, the cucumber sandwich.
White and Oolong Tea Tasting
Are you intrigued to try Premium Oolong and White teas? These exclusive varieties are expensive options. For this reason, you may like the opportunity to try before you buy.
We offer tea tasting experiences at events throughout the year. Follow us on Facebook or sign up to receive our newsletter and be the first to hear about our tea tastings.