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Black Dragon Tea

Oolong (or Wulong) is my favourite class of teas; I have yet to find an Oolong that isn't great. It is inexplicably difficult to find any Oolong in Britain, although you can sometimes find it in cans (Oolong is good chilled as well as hot). Although somewhere between green tea and black tea in terms of the way it is made, its taste and aroma are all its own.

The first syllable, (wu) can mean 'a crow, rook or raven' in other contexts, but here it means black. Long is dragon, and the leaves look a little like curled-up black dragons which wake up when you pour hot water on them; but according to legend the name originally had nothing to do with dragons, black or otherwise - rather, it is named after its discoverer Wu Liang; Wu Liang is a homophone for Oolong in south Fujian dialect.

As the story has it, Wu Liang went out picking tea one day, as he did every day in the tea-picking season. After collecting a good load, his eye was caught by a river deer and he stopped to slay the beast. Having taken it home to prepare it, he left the tea to one side and forgot about it. The next day he found that the tea had started to blacken (oxidise); he was worried that it might have gone bad, but he didn't want to let good tea go to waste so he got on with preparing it anyway. Once he had dried it in the traditional way, by heating, he made a cup and found to his surprise that it tasted great: Mellow and unfamiliar. He taught his neighbours how to make the tea, and it came to be named after him; language being what it is the Wu Liang/Wu Long distinction was lost in a few generations, and that's why today we know it as Oolong.

On average a cup of Oolong has about half the caffeine of a cup of black tea, and most of the antioxidants of green tea. Teas coming under the general heading of Oolong include Pouchong (almost green), Bai Hao Oolong ('White Hair Black Dragon,' a relatively strong Oolong), Silvertip Oolong (a quite sharp, leafy tea), Shui Hsien ('Water Sprite,' a light and flowery tea) and the excellent Ti Kuan Yin ('Iron Goddess of Mercy'). Taiwan (Formosa), Fujian and Guandong are known as the producers of much of the world's finest Oolong.

Like green tea, Oolong should be brewed with water several degrees below boiling point for best results, and one set of leaves can be used to make several brews. The traditional way of making and serving Oolong is known as gongfu cha, and requires a dedicated tea set; this is undoubtedly the best way, especially when dealing with the finer grades of Oolong, but if you don't have the requisite equipment and you are not afraid of the scorn of Chinese tea connoisseurs, an ordinary teapot does the job well enough.

Oolong was also the hero of the classic 80s Konami fighting game Yie Ar Kung-Fu and a character from a book called Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy. As noted elsewhere in this node, it is also the name of a character from the anime series Dragonball, and of a food-wearing rabbit from Japan, but it's the tea that I'm named after. The Oolong Tea node will tell you a bit more about why, and it houses the Oolong Tea song I wrote.