Saturday, January 24, 2015

What is Hung Shui Oolong?

Hung Shui Oolong from Yong Lung village, Dong Ding area
It's one of the most popular Oolong category in my selection and a style I often write about. So, I was a little bit surprised to receive a question from a longtime reader to clarify what Hung Shui Oolong is, especially its relationship to Dong Ding Oolong. If it's not clear for him, I'd better explain it one more time!
Hung Shui (red water) Oolong is the technical name for Oolongs that have been made like traditional Dong Ding Oolong. That process includes an oxidation that is higher than for high mountain Oolong and that gives fruity rather than flowery scents. It's also a process that requires a medium to strong roast that adds honey, nutty aromas and a long, powerful aftertaste. It is traditionally made with the qingxin Oolong cultivar, but this process can be made with any cultivar.
Why use the name Hung Shui Oolong?

To understand this, we have to go back to the early 1980s, when Dong Ding Oolong was most popular in Taiwan and famous around the world. The Dong Ding area is actually quite small and includes the Yong Lung village, the Feng Huang village and the Dong Ding village. Only tea from this small area should be called Dong Ding Oolong. But its success meant that other villages in Central Taiwan were also producing similar tea, using the same cultivar (qingxin) and the same oxidation and roasting levels. And they would also sell their teas under the general name of Dong Ding Oolong. So, Dong Ding Oolong started to loose its original meaning, a tea that comes from the Dong Ding area. That's why the name Hung Shui Oolong was coined to characterize any Oolong that has been processed like a traditional Dong Ding Oolong, but that doesn't necessarily come from Dong Ding.
In the 1990s, as fresh, unroasted high mountain Oolong became more popular, some farmers stopped roasting a growing portion of their Dong Ding Oolongs. Even Dong Ding Oolong was not necessarily Hung Shui Oolong anymore!
The Dong Ding competition organized by the Lugu Farmer's association has helped to preserve the taste and technique of Hung Shui Oolong. But it has also contributed to the confusion over the name Dong Ding. This competition allows farmers from all over Taiwan to compete. Some will even submit Oolongs grown in Thailand or China! (This also explains why around 25% of the submitted lots are rejected because they are too far away from the judges' standard.) And recent winners will proudly say that their Dong Ding competition winning Oolong was grown at high altitude, in Shan Lin Xi, Tsui Feng or even Lishan!
Conclusion: The name Dong Ding Oolong still evokes a glorious past, but it would be more accurate to say Hung Shui Oolong from X or Y, when naming an Oolong with a fruity oxidation and a skilled roast that adds sweetness and depth while preserving the freshness of the aromas. This is the case with this 'strong' Hung Shui Oolong from Yong Lung from the winter 2013. And since it comes from the original Dong Ding area, this particular Hung Shui Oolong can also be accurately described as an authentic Dong Ding Oolong!
Is everything clear now?

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