Drink Magazine

The Confusion Behind “Jade Oolong”

By Dchew78 @peonyts

Translation difficulties are often citied when there are variances between the Chinese and the Western nomenclature for tea terms.

Of course that is not always true, the old ‘red tea versus black tea’ or ‘fermentation versus oxidation’ are just 2 that readily comes to mind.

Here I must confess that spending far more time with Chinese- mainland or migrant- tea drinkers compared to western tea drinkers, I am more familiar with Chinese nomenclature. This is further accentuated by the tea related readings- 90% of my readings are in print and virtually all of my most frequently read texts are in Chinese, at least in the past 2 years or so.

Hence it should surprise no one that I am not particularly well acquainted with terminology that only exist in western terminology.

Sometime back, a tea friend Nicole of the lovely Tea For Me Please blog, once commented that a debate was sparked off on the ‘definition of Jade Oolong’.

To set the record straight on our end, Jade Oolong for us is a translation of the variety ‘Cuiyu’ (翠玉) which is also the name of the cultivar.

That to me was the ‘only’ Jade Oolong I could think of; perhaps also Yushan Wulong(玉山乌龙), which is more precisely translated as ‘Jade Mountain Oolong’.

Only later did I find out that in the western nomenclature, oolong tea- or more precisely Taiwanese oolong- was subdivided into jade, amber and champagne oolong, based on the color of the liquor and IF you are looking at Taiwanese Oolongs alone, more often than not it correlates to the level of oxidation.

Hence according to that nomenclature:

Jade Oolong is lightly oxidized oolong- the equivalent of ‘qingxiang’ (清香)

Champagne Oolong is heavily oxidized oolong- the equivalent of ‘nongxiang’ (浓香)

Amber Oolong is somewhere in between.

Coming back to the source language, ‘jade oolong’ as I mentioned earlier has a Chinese equivalent in Cuiyu or (inaccurately) Yushan.

Champagne oolong in Chinese nomenclature has been used to reference Ponfeng Tea aka Oriental Beauty which is the most heavily oxidized oolong. However that was attributable to the fact that tea drinkers in the past enjoyed adding a dash of brandy to accentuate the flavor of Oriental Beauty, hence giving it a ‘alcoholic connotation’. This has nothing to do with the level of oxidation, at least in the traditional convention.

As for Amber Oolong, well it doesn’t exist in Chinese.

As I understand it, this system of classification has been originally used by Taiwanese tea vendors, to simplify matters for the western market, a motive that I am not opposed to.

Somehow, along the way, confusion arose.

If you search the phrase ‘jade oolong’, you will find it denotes different things to different people.

It has separately meant:

-   Cuiyu Oolong

-   Sijichun Oolong (another Taiwanese cultivar)- literally translated as Four Seasons Spring

-   Tieguanyin- literally translated as Iron Goddess of Mercy

-   Huang Jin Gui- literally translated as Golden Cassia

And I have not dug past the deep reservoirs of the internet- i.e. beyond page 2 of Google search.

Suffice it to say, it is pointless to compare ‘jade oolongs’ across vendors since it can mean all things to all men.

Just to clear up one part of the confusion, on this site, ‘jade oolong’ means oolong made from the ‘cuiyu’ cultivar.

The bulk of ‘Cuiyu oolongs’ from Taiwan come from the Nantou province which is the biggest tea producing province of Taiwan but the cuiyu cultivar is also grown in smaller quantities in Jiayi Province (near Alishan) as well as Xinzhu.

Now you know what Jade Oolong means to us. Go figure what it means to others.


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