Oolong — the Gran Cru of Teas

Oolong — the Gran Cru of Teas
August 17, 2017 Leo Kwan
In Nature of Things, Tea Log

“Comparable only by some of the finest wines…

None other tea category can challenge oolongs as the gran cru of teas. It offers the widest range of taste profiles in tea. In it you can find the most complex and engaging taste experience. Hanspeter Reichmuth, the retired and renowned Swiss wine critic who switched to tea in the later part of his career, expressed to me during one of the oolong trips, “This is comparable only by some of the finest wines…”

As tea lovers ourselves, naturally we carry by far a lot more selections in oolongs than anything else. We sell what we love to drink, and we firmly belief in this philosophy and are proud of it.

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Gongfu tea or the big old teapot

All of our oolongs are of at least connoisseur quality. Many are extremely rare. They are naturally the best for carefully prepared in smaller portion, or in the gongfu style. However, that does not mean they are not suitable in the big old teapot, as long as you do it well. A fine cup is a fine cup. It can be strong, medium or light. Large or small. You are the master of your own cup of tea, after all.

Yao Qing — the oolong "fermentation" process

Tea processing artisans rocking the leaves in the yao qing process to scratch the edges of the leaves for triggering oxidation to form the proportion of taste and salutory substances unique in oolong. Wuyishan, Fujian

Oolongs are not “semi-oxidised” teas

Many vendors and marketeers would like you to believe that “semi-oxidised” teas are oolongs. They are not. Although oolongs are partially oxidised, there are particulars steps in which the unique taste characters are made possible. Such as the tedious and critical step of “rocking of leaves” — yao qing — as seen in the photo above. On the other hand, semi-oxidised teas are produced rather like black teas except with shorter oxidation. Such are lower skill, lower cost processes. A very large proportion of such products are marketed as “oolongs”. Some are even mechanically cut leaves. Don’t be fooled.

Single batch gems

While the oolongs in most teashops ( be it “boutique” or national brands ) are blends or gangs*, all of our oolongs are single batch productions. Besides keeping the taste quality pure and unique for its variety, it is extremely demanding for all steps along the processing and quality control to deliver a balance palate. It is not only a matter of tea master’s pride, but also the benefit to our customers for accessing the broad spectrum of taste varieties in genuine fine oolongs.

Harvesting on an old tea bush, Wuding, Phoenix

Picking tealeaves from a multi-centenarian old tea bush in Wudong, Fenghuang-shan ( Phoenix Mountain ). The oldest producing oolong tea plants and processing methods are found in this region.

Fenghuang-shan for Phoenix oolong

Known to some tea-drinkers as dancongs, the Phoenix range is not only the oldest existing form of oolong, but also the most attractive one in terms of taste diversity and complexity. That is also why we have the longest list of this. A few of our exclusive qualities are here for hard core aficionados. These selections demand the drinkers’ skills in both infusion and appreciation. If you are a beginner or casual hobbyist, please try our cost-effective selections. Examples of these include Big White, Black Leaf Special, Phoenix Classic etc. These great value dancongs are so high standard that many serious drinkers include them as favourites. Honey Orchid Supreme and Danhu Old Bush Song Cultivar are pinnacles in the subcategories of classic style and bouquet style respectively. They are what aficionados repeatedly come back for. Of course there are other popular selections — Orchid Literati ( aka Duck Poo tea ), Eight Immortals, Orchid Gratus ( aka Xingren Xiang ),  Aura of the NightShiguping, etc etc… Phoenix is the line that is closest to our heart.

See the Phoenix line

From the region of Wuyi-shan

Wuyi oolongs are characterised with a first impression of higher fire. Between higher fire and over-fired there is a fine line. We work closely with all our producers and farmers to optimised the degree of the bake so there is a balance between the individualistic innate taste of each of the selection and the distinct fire character people look for in Wuyi oolongs. The result is a line of finest traditional oolongs, each shines with its own gastronomical distinction. This is a far cry from all those over-baked products you may find elsewhere, including in the very origin. In traditional tea processing, they say a tea is half about the water ( tea juice ) half about the fire. We would like to believe that we are carrying forth this beautiful piece of heritage. The taste quality of our basic grade, such as Cassia Classic, Narcissus Classic, Meizhan Classic etc are comparable to the best in the majority of other online shops. Experienced connoisseurs may also want to try our Red Cloak, Iron Buddha, or Lily Eccentric… and a lot of other not so easily found varieties in our Wuyi line.

See the teas from Wuyi

Tieguanyin of Minnan

Tieguanyin is the ultimate Minnan oolong and we offer a small range of it. The individualistic palatial experience of each is a result of the differences in cultivar, region, processing and again, the use of fire. We do not carry such items as ginseng oolongs, osmanthus oolongs, milk oolongs etc, which are mainly produced in Minnan but can be marketed as Taiwan teas. They are low quality products masked with flavouring for profiteering. We’d rather keep our faith in quality rather than in higher profit margin. Then again, we sell only what we love to drink.

Taiwan oolong

In our Taiwan line, there are great value selections such as Eternal Spring and Cold Peak. They are not only easy tasting and great to show off to friends your infusion skills, but also of great quality. There is also the more adventurous GABA Oolong for its unique taste profile and health potency. Our Alishan Guanyin is probably the most genuine traditional style tieguanyin one can get in the market today. Diversity is also a hallmark in Taiwan oolongs. There is Oriental Beauty with the highest rate of oxidation in any oolong, which is famous for its involvement of a bug bitten triggered biochemistry that is part of the full body of the tea. On the hand there is the light, refreshing, non-demanding Jinxuan that is popular amongst younger drinkers, or the very delicate and smooth high altitude oolongs of Shan Lin Xi, or Wenshan Paochong

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Our comprehensive oolong lines would not be possible without the hard work from our farmers and producers. The fruits of their sweat make each of our challenging days bearable, each happy day shine. A fine oolong is not only a great tea, it is Life’s generous dividend for us that is really worth sitting down a while for.

note: The term gang (Chinese: 併堆 — bing dui) is used amongst Chinese tea producers and traders for putting together different batches of the same variety of tea produced in the same season. Most often the purpose is to produce a larger lot for trading. Unlike blending, where different varieties, regions, and even seasons and years may be involved, ganging of batches are almost always from the same region, same season and using the same tea variety. However, some traders do put together batches from different years to minimise inventory.

See all oolongs