Chinese and British Royalty Historically Love a Cuppa Oolong Tea
This article describes the historical and flavor profiles of four popular oolong teas. Learn about the rich history with British royalty and Chinese emperors.
Tea aficionados feel oolong teas represent the pinnacle of exotic, aromatic, flavorful, visual, captivating and delicious flavors. Oolong teas have deep complex flavors of honey, peach, apricot, orchid, melon, amber and sandalwood.
The first time I tasted Oolong tea, I instantly feel in love with its robust, dynamic characteristics. Oolong’s magic resides in its large flavorful twisted leaves. The large leaf allows you multiple infusions. Each time you infuse the leaves with warm water, you uncover a new flavors, and characteristics.
The first oolong tea I ever tasted was Organic Big Red Robe. I remember tasting the intense fruity flavors and smelling the sweet floral aroma. All my stresses and anxieties slowly melted away. Later I discovered this tea’s rich history.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), tea from tea bushes in Fujian is reported to have restored of a Ming dynasty official. In gratitude, the official left his red cape over the bush to protect it. Sometimes this tea is called 'Royal Red Robe'.
Big Red Robe tea grows from rocky soil in the Wuyi Mountains in the Fujian province. Cultivated from ancient tea bushes, tea farmers pruned the bushes to have one central trunk with a few branches. A small amount of large leaves grew on each branch. Big Red Robe oolong teas have large commanding leaves, which slightly curve into a twist, and are fired a distinct flinty black color.
A distinctive 'rock' oolong, this tea is 60-80% oxidized and roasted. Roasted over a charcoal fire, this process gives the tea a faint smoky tinge with sweet fruit and floral notes. This oolong is processed as a flat leaf, as opposed to popular rolled oolongs. Each infusion brings forth delicious honey, peach and apricot nectar.
The second oolong I tasted was Ti Kuan Yin or Iron Goddess of Mercy. This tea is one of the most popular oolong teas in China. A rolled leaf style oolong, this tea has intense apricot and peach flavor. Named after a female Chinese deitiy, this tea has powerful fruit flavors with sweet floral undertones.
Kuan Yin (Guan Yin) is the only Chinese female deity. She is known as the Goddess of Mercy, believed to be the female incarnation of the many-armed compassion Budda, Avalokitesvara. Ti means iron, referring to the iron jars where locals stored this tea.
According to legend, a Qing Emperor prayed to the Kuan Yin to heal him of smallpox. She answered his prayer, then appeared in a dream. In the dream she brought him to a poor tea village. She asked the emperor to help these people cultivate their tea bushes and prosper in her name. Each leaf had an imprint of the emperor's and Kuan Yin's thumb prints. These tiny marks distinguish the tea exclusively produced in the Anxi region in the Fujian province. The emperor declared this tea famous, making it one of his tribute teas.
Traditionally, Ti Kuan Yin is a slightly oxidized rolled tea. It has a dark-colored leaf, featuring a persistent sweet apricot flavor with floral and honey notes.
The next oolong I tasted grew in Taiwan. Discovered during World War II, Taiwanese tea farmers thought the tea junk until British traders arrived. Oriental Beauty is unique, because the British made it famous.
Taiwanese tea farmers discovered insect bites on their summer tea harvest. The bites slightly oxidized the leaf, releasing a sweet aroma. Farmers felt the tea inferior and refused to sell it. Instead they drank it themselves. During the manufacturing drying process, the bite marks turn white.
After World War II, British traders saw the locals drinking this brew and asked to buy it. The farmers refused. Thinking the farmers were keeping the best tea for themselves, the British traders were determined to buy it. Finally, the farmers quoted a high price. The traders bought tons of it and brought it to Queen Elizabeth II. The aroma and fragrance captivated the Queen. She compared it to a beautiful lady or an oriental beauty.
Most Oriental Beauty is oxidized 35-40 percent and has lovely honey and muscatel grape flavors. This tea is reminiscent of the fine wine flavors known in the Darjeeling region in India.
After drinking all these oolong teas, it is hard to pick a favorite. I look at it as a great to experiencing oolong tea flavor profiles. Brewing Big Red Robe and Iron Goddess of Mercy in cold water overnight, slowly extracts all the sweet fruit and honey flavors. Brewing these oolong teas multiple times in a small teapot or a gaiwan evenly opens the leaves, revealing the complex characteristics in the tea.
Royalty from China and England have agreed that oolong teas are stimulating, captivating, complex and delicious. What do you think?
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