Today we can find oolong tea being produced in many southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, however this tea was originally born in the Fujian province of Southeastern China during the Qing Dynasty (1725 - 1735). There are claims that Wulong tea originates in Song dynasty - however, that is not the case. In fact, Wulong tea descends from the Beiyuan tribute tea, also called dragon and phoenix tribute tea, which was produced in the same place as early as the Song dynasty (960 - 1279). However, the production and processing techniques for tea from this early stage have little to do with modern days Wulong tea. Now the best oolong teas come to us both from Southeastern China and Taiwan, although it wasn’t planted in Taiwan until the late 18th century.
Chinese vs. Taiwanese oolong. This is a tricky topic. And for the most part, it will depend on the specific type of oolong. Of course, oolong was originally born in China, but the growing conditions and skills of the farmers allowed for Taiwanese oolong to quickly catch up to China’s quality within a couple centuries.
Which oolong, which country?
China's oolongs are generally oxidized more and baked at higher temperatures than Taiwan's oolongs. This results in a rich, full-bodied tea with little astringency.
The most famous Chinese oolong teas are from the Fujian province, where they grow on cliffs. A prominent oolong of this type includes the much loved Da Hong Pao, which is only produced in small quantities each year.
Another noteworthy tea is Tie Guan Yin, originating in Anxi County, Fujian province. Tie Guan Yin has become very popular in the west, perhaps thanks to its pleasant full-bodied taste, which some might compare to drinking a decent cup of coffee.
Lastly, the Dancong series is made of tea grown on single trunk trees in the Phoenix Mountains in Guangdong Province. This tea is very special, with each variety resembling a distinct floral aroma. (Click here to read our article on Dan Cong oolongs teas and the specific aromas that they carry).
In Taiwan, high mountain oolong, Oriental Beauty, Dong Ding Oolong, and Milk Oolong are some of the celebrated lightly oxidized oolong types.
For Taiwanese oolongs, traditional Chinese processing methods were used for many years. However, with the growth of Taiwan’s tea industry, the local tea masters refined their techniques and produced some excellent new blends.
In the case of Milk Oolong (perhaps with small exceptions), you need to be extra cautious when purchasing one produced in China. Chinese producers of this famous tea have a sketchy history of adding fake aroma and claiming to “steam it with milk”. Although the Jin Xuan tea bush first originated in China and was only eventually planted in the Taiwanese mountains, it has been growing there pretty well thanks to a suitable climate and local farmers have perfected their Milk Oolong skills.
Ali Shan is homes to some of Taiwan’s most remarkable teas. Grown at elevations of 1000 meters and higher, they offer an intense floral aroma with a long-lasting sweet and creamy aftertaste.
To truly find your favorite area of oolong production, we recommend experimenting and trying different oolongs produced in different areas. And if you already have one, please let us know in the comments below!