“It’s been too long,” I thought. “Surely we can get oolong.” And with that, the black dragon reëntered my life.

By a simple fortuity, tea for two. But had I the fortitude? My medulla annotated a noology of longing as I spooned the oblong rolls of leaves into the pot. It would be exquisite.

My relationship with oolong took root a long time ago. When I was young, it was one of many tea options, but it was the one with the googly, gangly, foolish-looking name. The tea we had came in bags and was none too precious; at best I might tell orange pekoe from Earl Grey. Oolong was notable first for its name, which to my childish eyes might have been an English estate, though to my adult eyes it looks more like an Australian city. But oh! long way off there.

Oolong is, in fact, mutatis mutandis, a Chinese term. It is 烏龍, wū lóng, black dragon. Does that 烏 look like a dragon? It is a crow, and from that it is black. The 龍 is the character for dragon, and it has a rich and complex history. As rich and complex as the tea it names.

In wine there may be truth, but in tea there is wisdom, and none more so than this oolong owling its two o eyes at you for long too long. Tea is oxymoronic: it can heat or cool the mind; it is fit to foment ferment or distillation in stillness. But oolong is different from other teas in that it is half-fermented and is also well oxidated. There are many ways of making it, with many different results; the variety and depth of the results make it akin to a fine wine grape, the taste as sublime as Laocoön.

And, like fine wine, the best oolong can cost more than a few doubloons. Go to a tea shop and see: the top pick will be a lulu, a real doozy. It may cost you one or more of your right oöcytes. But ah, what a fine cup it will make, and another and another. It is a good way to get through a long afternoon.

All it takes is opening the cupboard or cabinet. And looking. And seeing it, there in a lagoon of black, coolly looking back.

One response to “oolong

  1. The place I get mine (https://sevencups.com/) calls it “wulong.” Maybe it’s closer to the original pronunciation? I don’t know, but I think I like “oolong” better. There’s just something about having a word begin with “oo.”

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