Oolong Tea History
The Story of Black Dragon

Oolong tea history goes back at least 500 years. There are 3 widely quoted theories on how it started to exist.

Oolong tea is also known as wu-long.

Wu means Black. Long means Dragon. So it is a Black Dragon tea.

It is widely accepted by Chinese scholars that the tea emerged before 16th Ming dynasty. Exactly how it happened is now shrouded in the mists of history.

I present below 3 popular explanations on why it is known as the Black Dragon tea.

Oolong Tea History Version 1:
Tribute Tea

oolong tea historyChinese tea is a luxury good. The best teas are often tribute tea - tea that was cultivated and processed for the consumption of emperors.

According to the "tribute tea" theory, oolong tea was invented at around 10th century in Northern Song dynasty.

The Song emperors were renowned for their many artistic pursuits, including tea drinking, often at the expense of governance.

They set up the imperial tea garden of Beiyuan in Fujian Province.

The tea garden has an important place in Chinese tea history - it existed for as long as 458 years.

The Beiyuan tribute tea consists of two families of tea: the Dragon and Phoenix. The tea garden was famous in producing the Dragon-Phoenix Tea Cake (Longfong Tuancha).

Tea cake went out of fashion in Ming dynasty as the emperors turned towards loose tea.

So Beiyuan switched production. Their loose tea was glossy and dark - it was called Black Dragon tea.

Oolong Tea History Version 2:
Wuyi Mountain

According to the "Wuyi" theory, oolong tea was first invented in the Wuyi Mountain of Fujian Province in 16th century Ming dynasty.

The earliest records of oolong tea can be traced back to two literary sources, both published in Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911).

oolong tea history

The first is Wuyi Tea Song (Wuyi Chage) by Yi Chaoqun:

In the 15th century
tea fields were abandoned
as some of the rock tea starts to grow
they love it when the north wind blow in a sunny day
but not the south wind or rain
the fragrance dissipates
the beautiful plum and orchid aroma
come from the final baking process

The second is Tea Tale (Chashuo) by Wang Chaotang:

Wuyi tea is first left to sun in bamboo basket
Then roasted and baked
Longjing tea is pure because it is roasted but not withered
Only Wuyi tea is roasted and withered
Half green and half red
Roasted green and withered red
Left to wither then shaken
When the fragrance emerges, it is roasted
The timing has to be precious

The tea is named after a part of Wuyi Mountain where it was produced.

Oolong Tea History Version 3:
Anxi County

oolong tea historyAnxi is a county in the Fujian Province of China. It is renowned for producing the Iron Goddess (Tieguanyin) oolong tea.

The plant is called Wulong because the person who discovered it is called Sulong. Misinterpretation in local dialects caused Sulong to become Wulong.

It is not as incredulous as it may sound.

Wulong is an important oolong tea plant with big leaves of up to 10 centimeters long. It has 10 to 20 sub-varieties.

Another popular variation of "Anxi" theory is about a hunter called Dragon. He was dark-skinned and was nicknamed Black Dragon.

When he was hunting one day, he left tea to ferment in his bag for too long. His running after a beast bruised the leaves and caused them to oxidise.

The tea was found to be very fragrant. People decided to name it after him as remembrance for his accidental discovery.

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Si Hai Gen (2007). Zhongguo Mingcha. Shanghai Wenhua Chubanshe.

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