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Tea for More than Two:

Oolong tea grown in Indonesia

Ten years ago the TEH 63 company envisioned turning a jungle area 40 km south of Bogor, West Java into a tea plantation that could grow and produce Oolong tea from Taiwan. The skeptics pointed out the differences in climate and soil type that they felt would make this vision impossible to realize. But the results have dispelled the skeptics' voices as today a quality Oolong tea product, Jawa Oolong TEH 63, is not only sold in over 30 outlets throughout Indonesia but is also being exported. TEH 63 proves that Indonesia’s climate and soil are capable of producing high quality Oolong tea, not only for the local but also for the international market.

What is oolong tea?

Oolong tea originates from Fujian province in China. Just as varying fermentation processes produce different wines, tealeaves are processed in different ways to develop into three distinctive types of tea: Green, Oolong and Black. While Green Tea is unfermented and Black Tea is 100% fermented, Oolong tea is considered semi-fermented, with a rate of 20% to 50%.

The tea fermentation process was developed in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). Chinese growers were challenged to preserve the delicate qualities of tea while it was shipped on long journeys as far afield as Europe, because it was becoming an important trading commodity. The solution was the invention of new processing methods which resulted in black and flower-scented teas. Ming producers found that fermentation was able to preserve tealeaves, making them suitable for the long overseas journey. Europe's first taste of tea was green but tastes gradually changed to black tea as Chinese growers altered tea production methods to suit the logistics of distant trade.

Oolong tea has a unique appearance in which the tea leaves look like they have been rolled up in small semi-balls, which is achieved through a unique ball-rolling step during processing. The finished appearance of the tea has a deep-green color. Brewed Oolong tea is a bright golden-yellowish color with a strong and pleasant aroma. When allowed to steep for three to four minutes the rolled leaves unfurl and return to their unprocessed three-leaf state kept intact throughout processing. Oolong tea leaves a mellow and long lasting after taste in the mouth.

The process of creating a world-class oolong tea

TEH 63 harvests from tea trees that are at least 5 years old. The tea trees are pruned to approximately 50 centimeters in height, which is shorter than other types of tea trees that range from 80 to 100 cm. An experienced team of 50 to 60 local village women is employed to harvest the tea every 45 days. They are trained to only pick the top two leaves and a newly formed bud on each tea tree shoot, as these are the choice leaves for making high quality tea.

Within one hour of picking, the tea is collected from the fields and transported to the processing plant. Here it is spread out on tarps and dried in indirect sunlight for one hour before the leaves are moved indoors for further drying and an oxidizing process. Indoors the tea goes through several short-duration drying steps. This allows the sap to be released from the still-attached stem of the leaves, which increases the aroma and flavor of the tea.

The ball-rolling step that gives Oolong tea its unique final appearance is undertaken after the tea has dried for seven to ten hours or overnight. The tea is roasted in a huge rotating drum to increase its elasticity. When the tea reaches the desired temperature it is quickly removed from the drum and divided into 10 kg portions. Then it is wrapped in a double layer of exceptionally durable cloth imported from Taiwan. The workers, aided by a machine, then twist the tea into an extremely tight ball. This ball is put on a rolling machine for one minute that applies slight pressure to the contents while rolling the contained tea in a curricular motion, which creates the rolled up appearance of the tea leaves. The ball-rolling step is repeated 6-8 times before the desired small semi-ball appearance is achieved. After a final drying process, the tea is subject to a hand-picked quality control where any imperfect leaves are removed leaving a high quality tea that can be enjoyed by consumers.

Health benefits of oolong tea

Consumption of tea was first recorded around the third century BC when a famous Chinese doctor recommended it for increasing one's alertness. Most historians however agree that tea was used in China long before this date as a medicinal tonic. Tea entered its golden age during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century AD. It was no longer drunk simply as a medicinal tonic; tea was taken as much for pleasure as for its restorative powers.

Today the medical profession, with impartial analysis, is producing hard data confirming what Asians have known for many centuries. Oolong tea contains a much higher quantity of polyphenol, commonly known as tannin, than green tea. Scientists believe tannin may account for the lower risk of cancer in tea drinkers because of its ability to help DNA cells reproduce accurately. Reduced heart disease, aided digestion and lowered cholesterol accumulation are all health benefits which regular drinkers attribute to Oolong tea. Tea leaves are richer than most fruits and vegetables in antioxidant compounds. What all this means is simple: Oolong Tea is good for you!

As the only producer of Oolong tea in Indonesia, TEH 63 is striving to educate consumers of not only the health benefits that can be enjoyed from regular Jawa Oolong tea consumption but also the wonderful flavor and aroma of this special tea. Teh 63 boutiques, located in major shopping malls and airports in Indonesia, offer sampling of the six tea flavors, as well as brewing demonstrations. An increasing number of people are discovering that Jawa TEH 63 can be enjoyed not only with meals but even to replace a coffee break in the afternoon. With one-eighth the caffeine content of coffee, you might go back to work in a better mood! Why not try Teh 63 and make a lifestyle choice that is enjoyable and good for you at the same time?

Note: Special thanks to Eva Nainggolan and the staff at TEH 63 for their tour of the plantation and TEH 63 boutique.

by Gene Sugandy

This article was first published by Island Life Magazine.