Because of differences in tea bush varietal, pluck and regional styles, Oolongs come in many forms, shapes and colours. However, many make a general distinction between the lighter, more floral Chinese Oolongs (including the revered Wuyi, or Rock oolongs), which are less oxidised, and the darker, more spicy Taiwanese oolongs, which are more heavily oxidised. Interestingly, naturally caffeine free rooibos tea, which is made in South Africa, uses techniques heavily inspired by the oolong tradition.
Oolongs are considered one of the most complicated teas to manufacture. The craft lies in carefully controlling the oxidisation process. The tea master repeatedly stirs, tosses, rattles and gently bruises the leaves, using his senses of smell, touch and sight to monitor the operation. Once the ‘sweated’ tea begins to release the desired flavours and aromas and the master believes the optimal level of oxidisation has been reached, the process is stopped by the swift application of heat. The warm leaves are then rolled or twisted into the desired shape and dried.