Our Hong Oolong Tea comes from Meishan Township, Chiayi County, Taiwan. Meishan is the northeastern corner of the Alishan tea producing region, and in our perception, it generally offers the best Alishan Tea. So, even though Hong Oolong is not commonly made in this region, Eco-Cha (at long last!) has chosen this source for specific reasons.
First, let's give a little background about Hong Oolong, aka Red Oolong. This is a type of tea that was designed by the Taiwan Research and Extension Station (TRES) and introduced to the small tea producing region on the southeast coast of Taiwan in 2008. The TRES advised tea producers in this region to process their produce as Hong Oolong in order to differentiate their tea type from other Taiwanese teas. The climate on the southeast coast is hotter, and more conducive to making heavily oxidized tea, similar to how summer/fall crops are used to make Black Tea, Oriental Beauty, or Hong Shui Oolong in other regions.
The name Hong Oolong is derived from the fact that it combines Black Tea with Oolong Tea making methods. So it is a hybrid of tea making, not cultivar. It's strictly a combination of Black Tea and Oolong Tea processing methods. In Chinese, Black Tea is called Red (Hong) Tea. So this may also be seen translated as "Red Oolong". And the results are (you guessed it!) a melding of Black Tea and Oolong Tea in the flavor profile and overall character of tea.
Without getting too technical, the initial processing steps follow Oolong Tea making methods, and the later steps follow Black Tea making methods. But right around the middle of the processing, there is a specific crossover. Namely, Hong Oolong does not require the attention that Oolong requires in the indoor withering, shuffling, and oxidation phases. Rather, it is rolled briefly, similar to Black Tea, but much less, before it is tossed in the tumble heaters — like Oolong is — to cease oxidation and loosen up the clumping of the leaves caused by the rolling. The tumble heating for Hong Oolong is also significantly less than for Oolong Tea. The temperature is lower and the extent of moisture depletion is much less. This allows for a post oxidation effect in the subsequent drying and rolling process. Hong Oolong is also rolled into a semi-spherical shape, like Oolong, as opposed to being just slightly twisted — like Black Tea.
So, these well researched mixing and matching of processing methods is what goes into the making of Hong Oolong. Furthermore, Hong Oolong is made from the summer/fall crops in this region — basically as the smarter and more interesting alternative to making Small Leaf Black Tea. Combine this with the fact that Hong Oolong is much less discriminating as to what cultivar is used than the less oxidized Oolong types of tea, such as High Mountain Tea and Dong Ding Oolong Tea.
So from tea producer's perspective, it is a smarter and more flexible choice in terms of how to produce the best quality and reap the most value from "off season" crops. And from the consumer's perspective, it simply offers another specialty tea item to be appreciated. In sum, it maximizes the value of a produce that is less suited for producing conventional Oolongs, and it's a more interesting type of tea than the conventional Black Tea.
Hong Oolong really is a clever innovation in tea production that only happened (in its current established form) in the last 15 years or so. It offers the rich, deep sweet malty tones of a Black Tea, balanced with a more complex, fragrant and fruity profile that is more like an Oolong.
Finally, in addition to perception that Meishan Township produces the best Jin Xuan Tea available, we are confident in saying that our friend's finishing touch of roasting this tea in his infrared equipped oven puts a distinctive final touch on this tea. The low temperature baking with infrared results in a cleaner, more refined overall character. It eliminates any of the murky tones that are often part of a Black Tea profile, and brings out the more subtle aromatic qualities in the leaf. So give it a try! We're confident in saying that you won't be disappointed!
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