Imperial Formosa oolong tea is one of the finest oolong teas you can buy, so long as it is produced in a quality tea garden that takes great care in how the tea is harvested and processed. To choose the best Imperial Formosa oolong tea, it’s important to know some things about this tea and how it is harvested and produced.
Oolong tea is a hybrid of green and black tea. It is produced from the same plant as other teas, but processed a bit differently. Green tea is left unfermented, black tea is fully fermented and oolong tea is semi-fermented, meaning that the fermentation time is shorter than that of other teas, so some percentage of the tea leaves are left green. This partial fermentation creates a tea that is lighter than black tea, but bolder and more flavorful than green tea. Depending upon how long the tea artisan allows the leaves to ferment, or oxidize, the tea may be closer to the flavor of a green tea or closer to the flavor of a black tea 茶葉 . In addition, oolong tea is produced from larger tea leaves, those that grow further down the tea plant.
Imperial Formosa oolong tea is produced only in Taiwan. Teas from Taiwan are referred to as Formosa teas because this was the country’s original name. Most people think of China as the place where oolong teas are produced, and, in fact, China does produce the largest quantity of oolong tea today. However, Taiwan runs a close second, and their oolong teas are considered some of the best in the world. According to historical book reports, tea bushes had been found growing in the wild of Taiwan about three hundred years ago. Tea varieties were introduced in Taiwan about two hundred years ago by immigrants from China and a new industry was born.
Imperial Formosa oolong tea is fermented until the leaves are about 30% oxidized. Timing the oxidation period is a critical step in creating a good oolong tea. To create the same flavor each time, the artisan must appropriately bruise the leaves and then see that the oxidation happens precisely. Producing oolong tea is a labor intensive process that cannot be effectively managed with machines and other mass production processes.
For this reason, fewer tea gardens produce oolong than other teas. Producing the very best oolong requires strict adherence to the process and timing as well as skilled tea artisans who can determine exactly when the tea leaves are appropriately dried and when they’re appropriately fermented. For this reason, oolong teas are often more expensive than black and green teas. Formosa oolong teas are typically the most expensive oolong teas because labor costs in Taiwan are higher than those in other countries.
Like black and green teas, the flavor of oolong teas are also affected by when the leaves are plucked. The first teas plucked during the season are the spring teas, also known as first flush teas. These are generally the most highly prized tea leaves of the season. Though the tea plant will be harvested several more times before the end of the summer, in most cases the tea from these subsequent pluckings will not rival the first plucked tea in flavor. This is primarily because tea leaves grown later in the season are subject to hotter weather and often become baked in the sun before they’re even plucked. The same rules apply to most oolong teas. In most cases, the first flush of oolong will have the best taste. You’ll typically find Imperial Formosa oolong tea produced from the first plucking of the season.
The best tea gardens, can, however, make good tea from each flush of the growing season, though many tea connoisseurs will always favor first flush teas. This exceptional flavor and smaller availability make first flush oolong teas the most expensive of the growing season, too.
The best tea gardens label their teas not only by the grade of the tea leaves, but according to which plucking they were produced from. Some tea gardens don’t even pluck more than twice a season, believing that the quality of the tea is not sufficient after the second plucking.
In most cases Imperial Formosa oolong tea will be a first flush tea and will be graded Finest to Choice, the highest grade of Formosa teas. Few tea gardens produce Imperial Formosa oolong, and most can be counted on to produce high quality tea.
Still as a consumer, you should ensure that you’re getting what you pay for. The best way to do this is to buy your teas only from the best tea shops, whether in your local area or by shopping for tea online. Often choosing tea shops that offer a smaller selection of teas helps ensure that you are buying tea that is of excellent quality. These tea shops are careful about what they purchase, and work with just a few of the best tea gardens in the world. Their selection may be smaller, but you know that it is a hand picked selection of the finest quality.
Not every tea shop will have Imperial Formosa oolong tea, as it is one of the rarest teas, grown by just a few gardens. When you find this tea, and can purchase it from a tea merchant who is committed to selling only the highest quality of teas, you can be assured that you’re buying a tea that will be delicious and satisfying.