Wulong tea, also widely known as oolong tea, has a rich and interesting history. The Chinese name for wulong tea translates to “black dragon tea”. It is believed that wulong tea was first discovered or created before the 16th Ming Dynasty, but how it came to be isn’t exactly clear. There are however three widely accepted theories about how it became known as black dragon tea.
Wulong Tea History – The Tribute Tea Theory
The best Chinese teas were often cultivated and skillfully produced for the emperors. These teas were called tribute teas, making Chinese tea became a luxury good, not just a medicinal tonic.
The tribute tea theory suggests that Chinese oolong tea was discovered in the Northern Song Dynasty around the 10th century. The Song emperors were well known for their artistic pursuits, one of which included drinking tea.
These emperors set up the imperial tea garden, Beiyuan, in the Fujian Province. The tribute tea of this tea garden was made from two families of tea, Dragon and Phoenix. This tea garden became well-known for producing the Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake.
But tea cake went out of style during the Ming Dynasty when the emperors instead started using loose leaf tea. So Beiyuan started producing loose tea instead of tea cake. Their loose tea was dark, long and glossy — it became known as Black Dragon Tea.
Wulong Tea History – The Wuyi Mountain Theory
Based on the Wuyi oolong tea theory Chinese oolong tea was first created in the Wuyi Mountain area of the Fujian Province during 16th century Ming Dynasty.
The first records of wulong tea can be traced to two literary works from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), The Wuyi Tea Song and The Tea Tale. Based on this theory it is said that wulong tea is named after the part of the Wuyi Mountain where it was originally produced.
Wulong Tea History – The Anxi County Theory
Anxi is a county in the Fujian Province of China. According to the Anxi tea theory wulong tea originated from the Anxi oolong tea plant. The person said to have discovered the plant was named Sulong, but misinterpretation of the name in local dialects cause Sulong to be pronounced Wulong.
Another popular tale tells the story of a man nicknamed Black Dragon who discovered wulong tea by mistake. He was running with his bag of tea leaves which caused them to bruise and start to oxidize. The tea leaves then sat in his bag for longer than normal. He decided he would still use these tea leaves; the result was a fragrant tea — wulong tea. People named it after him thanks to his accidental discovery.
Today the majority of wulong tea is cultivated and produced in the Fujian Province and Guangdong Province in China and the island Taiwan which produces its well-known Formosa Oolong tea. Each region has a unique flavor and skilled artisans creating their own distinct varieties of wulong tea. The meticulous nature required for these tea masters to produce a quality wulong tea is believed to be an art form that is often passed down from generation to generation.
So next time you brew a cup of oolong tea remember the rich wulong tea history and the craftsmanship that went in to that seemingly “simple” cup of tea… and enjoy.