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Oolong Tea 101: A Comprehensive Guide To Taste The Best Oolong Tea

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Oolong tea, with its health benefits and flavor complexity, is catching more and more attention recently. Few other types of tea can compare with the range of flavors of oolong, which could have hints of honey, floral-fruity, fresh mineral, woody, heavy rock, deep chocolate, and creamy nuts. If you are searching for a tea with a complex flavor, oolong is your best choice. 

In this guidance, you will find a comprehensive introduction on basic things about oolong tea and our carefully curated oolong tasting box.

What is Oolong Tea? 

Simply put, oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea between green tea and black tea. Like both green and black tea, oolong originates from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The difference is in the process method. Green tea is minimally oxidized whereas black tea is fully oxidized, which gives it the characteristic black color. Generally speaking, any tea that’s between 10 and 90 percent oxidized can be considered oolong. 

With such a wide range of oxidation levels and the roasting method, Oolong is the widest and most versatile category of tea. Lightly fermented oolong tea can taste fruity or woodsy like green tea while fully fermented oolong can taste like bold flavored black tea. Between the span, you can find a full range of rich tastes that can trigger a pleasant palate journey. 

Making Process of Oolong Tea

The process of oxidation is an important factor to decide the final aroma of oolong tea. There are many steps involved from leaf to tea, and every detail needs to be precisely managed by experienced artisans.

  • Picking and Withering

In the south of China where there is abundant rain, Oolong tea leaves can be harvest four times a year. However, though there are set times for each season, it still varies depending on the circumstances. In fact, when picking the leaves, even the time of the day will make a difference.

Once the leaves are harvested, they will be spread outdoor first then indoor to wither. The tea maker would control factors such as sun exposure and moisture level to get the desired effect.4 oolong tea

  • Shaking

This is the signature step of making Oolong. Tea leaves are basket-tossed to break down the cell walls of the leaves to expose them to oxygen. The tea master must be thoroughly experienced to decide the frequency of shaking. Like veteran chefs, skilled oolong masters do this by feel, sight, smell, and touch to develop particular desired flavors. 

  • Kill enzymes and stop oxidation

After tea leaves reach the desired oxidation level, the next step will be killing the residual enzymes and stop oxidation by transferring leaves to a firing wok. 

  • Rolling and Drying

In this process, leaves are bundled up and transferred into machines to roll in a circular motion, which will cause the leaves to curl up. Then they will be placed into low heat machines to dry slowly. Rolling and drying can take up to 12 hours. It is up to the skills of the tea master to stop the process at the desired time.

  • Roasting and packing

This step could be called art in itself. Because it requires the tea master to consider every factors such as the growth environment of the tea trees, the condition of the harvesting, the way of process, etc. to decide the optimal roasting method. Usually, heavily oxidized oolong is roasted repeatedly, which can bring out the consistency of the brewed tea. Afterward, they will be sorted, packed, and ready to go.

What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?

Whether the aroma of oolong is light and floral or dark and chocolatey, it all depends on two factors: oxidation and roasting. The process of roasting adds flavor and aroma to oolong. It can not only give the oxidized fruitiness a deep woodsy undertone but can also extend the shelf life of tea.

The quality of oolong mainly depends on the tea cultivar, terroir, and skills of the tea master. Although the cultivation of oolong tea has spread through various parts of Asia, the best oolongs today still come from the Guangdong and Fujian regions of China and Taiwan.

Types of Oolong Tea

There are countless types of oolong tea and many ways to categorize them. They can be categorized based on the oxidation level or the location of the tea tree. A single place can have many different methods of processing the tea leaves; even a difference of a few hours in harvesting time will result in a different type of tea. It is hard to include everything. Here I briefly introduce a few famous categories.

  • Wuyi rock tea

The specialty of Wuyi Rock Tea is “the core of rock and the fragrance of the flower.” These Wuyi mountain cliff-grown tea trees are usually heavily oxidized with a stone-like mineral base note and distinctive fruity flavors, and the aftertaste can survive through many times of brewing.

At the same time, there are many flower trees such as osmanthus and orchid around Wuyi tea trees, which add a light floral note to Wuyi. These two factors made Wuyi special.

There is a saying that if one can appreciate Wuyi, one can be considered a tea connoisseur. Because there are almost up to a thousand different varietals of Wuyi; any tiny difference in location of the tree, time of harvesting, process of roasting will all result in a different type of tea.

Each kind has its own aroma, but generally speaking, the first sip will bring you a heavy roasted, robust nutty tang, and then you can feel the layers open up in your mouth with honey and floral fragrance. Some very popular kinds of Wuyi are Shuixian, Meizhan, Bairuixiang, Dahongpao and Rougui.

  • Phoenix Dancong from Guangdong

Translated as “single bush”, Dancong refers to tea made from the collection of the best branches selected from every Phoenix Narcissus plant. Each tree has a distinct flavor, texture, and aroma, result in a tea that’s famous for its hundreds of different notes. There are numerous types of Dancong depending on their fragrance, location, or shapes.

In Magnifissance x Eastern Leaves Oolong Tasting box, we include Gardenia Dancong, which is one of the most fragrant kinds with graceful hints of honey.

  • Tieguanyin

Tieguanyin, or the “Iron Goddess of Mercy”, is one of the ten famous tea of China. Legend has it, during the Qing Dynasty there was a tea maker called Weiyin. He is a faithful follower of Buddhism and would offer a cup of tea to the Goddess every single day with no exception.

One day in his dream, he found a beautiful tea tree that he has never seen before. On the second morning, he went to look for it based on what he saw in his dream, and it was there. People believe that the dream is a blessing from the Goddess. Now in the birthplace of Tieguanyin—Anxi city, one can still see the monument of the first Iron Goddess tea tree.

Depending on the oxidized level and roasting process, Tieguanyin can be roughly separated into three kinds—light, heavy, and old. 

The light roasted version has hues of green and yellow with floral garden flavors with lingering notes of orchid and narcissus. The roasted notes only emerge in the aftertaste like a gentle breeze, leaving a complex flavor in the palate and creating a sense of anticipation for the next brew.

The heavy roasted Tieguanyin is a more old-fashioned form. It is darker with smooth, roasted, and fruity notes and a heavier aroma. A higher oxidation level discloses three different flavors in the teacup: a whirl of flowers, a juicy note of ripe fruit, and a lingering roasted aftertaste with mellow notes of dark chocolate.

The old roasted Tieguanyin tastes close to black tea with a thick, mellow, and soft flavor. It’s made from aged and multi-processed light or heavy roasted Tieguanyin.

  • Taiwan oolongs

Though originates in Fujian, China, Taiwan oolong has become popular with its own characteristics. Many tea trees are grown on remote high mountaintops with misty air, resulting in a concentrated sweetness and floral reminiscent.

Taiwan oolong has many types, such as the Jinxuan oolong that’s famous for its distinctive creamy and milky aftertaste, or the high-mountain oolong that’s grown over a thousand meters above sea level.

There is also the bug-bitten honey oolong, which is my personal favorite. When I drank it the first time, I thought it has added honey—the sugary aroma is really distinct. In fact, the leaves are bitten by a special kind of cicada, and with chemical reactions create a type of tea that’s famous for its natural honey taste. 

You may find one of the best Taiwan oolongs at Wistaria Tea House, run by one of Taiwan’s most recognized tea connoisseurs.

The Benefits of Oolong Tea

Because of its unique oxidation level, Oolong is rich in antioxidants and nutrients that are found in both green and black tea. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, oolong tea contains traces of vital vitamins and minerals such as calcium, manganese, copper, carotin, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. 

Numerous studies have shown the positive effect of tea on weight loss, especially oolong tea. The combination of caffeine and polyphenols in oolong may help burn calories and speed up fat metabolism. A recent study showed that extracts from oolong could help decrease body fat directly.

Oolong can also improve heart health and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol level. Studies from China and Japan have shown that oolong drinkers have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Furthermore, the vitamins and antioxidant content in oolong can be anti-aging and anti-inflammatory. In fact, drinking tea in general could improve brain function, protect against certain cancers.

It almost sounds like oolong tea is your ticket to health, however, everything has its good side and bad side. Never drink oolong tea with an empty stomach as it might induce headache or palpitation. It’s also not recommended to drink before sleep because it could keep you awake. And don’t drink it cold; it’s harmful to the stomach.

The caffeine content in oolong

Oolong tea has a similar amount of caffeine as green tea, about 10 to 60 milligrams per 8 ounces cup, approximately 1/3 less than the caffeine in a cup of coffee. It varies for different kinds of oolong and the steeping method, and the caffeine content reduces by around 1/3 with each steep.

Brewing method

  • Water temperature

Use natural mineral water, preferably a PH level of 7 and a temperature of 80°C ~100°C. However, the suggested temperature differs depending on the type of oolong and the oxidation level of the leaves. The lighter the oxidation level, the lower the temperature. 

  • Steeping time

Oolong tea has a steeping time of about 1-2 minutes, but again, it really depends on the type of oolong. Oolong could be re-steeped more times compares to other types of tea, and the flavor will improve and transform with each re-steep. For optimum results, you may want to increase the steeping temperatures slightly after the first few flushes to unlock more flavor.

  • Leaf to water ratio 

Generally speaking, about 2-3g per 100ml teapot. But you could adjust depending on how many times you want to steep your tea.

  • Brewing tools

A purple clay pot from Yixing is recommended for oolong. Make sure to warm up the pot with hot water first. Use one type of tea only for each teapot in order to season the pot and avoid cross-contamination of flavors.

Above is a very elementary guide for brewing oolong tea that you could try at home. Keep in mind that all these are only suggestions. You should adjust and experiment until you discover the best recipe for yourself.

The Tao of Tea

In Ancient China, tea is not only a type of drink, it has become a way of Tao. There’s the saying that the mirror can reflect your face while the tea can reflect your heart. One could eventually achieve enlightenment through tea.

Most people believe that “harmony” is the core of the Tao of Tea. Harmony, or 和, includes many connotations. It can be understood as the Confucius theory of “the middle way”, and one perspective of it is that from the tea-making process to the brewing method, everything has to be to the point. Not too much, not too little.

A good cup of tea shows the connection and peace among heaven, earth, and people. Go make a cup of tea: it would be nice to pause for a minute and enjoy a harmonious time in this busy world.

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Inspired by Ancient Wisdom

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