Tea has become an integral part of our daily diet. We drink tea to reap its splendid health benefits or to refuel our energy. Knowing more about the type of tea we drink would help us enjoy its every sip. Hence, in this guide, we are going to explore the world of oolong tea and learn about its rich history, processing technique, unique flavor profile, and brewing instructions.
ORIGINS OF OOLONG TEA
History of oolong tea dates back to ancient times, filled with mysteries and myths. Some Chinese believe that many many years ago, there lived a farmer in the Fujian province. His name was Wu Liang, while his friends and family called him Wulong (in Chinese it means black dragon).
One day, Wulong was picking tea leaves to make green tea. When he was going to process the fresh leaves, he had to leave his work as something distracted him. Whether it was a deer or a black dragon that distracted him, no one really knows.
Later, when he came back, he noticed that the green color of leaves had started to fade and the edges were lightly bruised. Even though these leaves had started to wilt, they still had an amazing aroma. Thus, Wulong decided to continue his processing. The resultant tea was less grassy and more diverse in flavors than green tea. This new tea was named after him as wulong now written as oolong.
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HOW OOLONG TEA IS MADE?
Oolong tea is semi-oxidized tea with an oxidization level anywhere between 10-85%. Although made from Camellia sinensis, this tea has a different processing technique as compared with other teas. Its process flow involves the following major steps:
- STEP 1: Fresh Leaves or buds
- STEP 2: Light Tossing
- STEP 3: Withering
- STEP 4: Light Rolling
- STEP 5: Oxidation
- Step 6: Fixation
- Step 7: Final Rolling
Fresh leaves or buds are slightly bruised by light tossing in the basket. After this initial shaking leaves go through the withering process, i.e., often left to dry under the sun for a few hours. Withering helps to make the leaves more flexible and manageable for the long process ahead.
Next stage is light rolling of the leaves that further bruises the leaves. Further bruising is essential as it accelerates the process of oxidation. The duration of the oxidation process may vary depending on the intended taste of the tea.
After the desired level of oxidation is achieved, leaves go through the fixation process, i.e., heating the leaves by using cooking methods such as frying or roasting.
Later, leaves are rolled once again. This step results in the release of essential oils that enhances the taste of tea. This final rolling also determines the texture and shape of the leaf that eventually affects the flavors infused and released during brewing.
Finally, tea can be consumed after drying and sorting the leaves into similar sizes.
Related Article: How Tea is Produced? Tea Processing and Production Steps
OOLONG TEA TASTE
The tea plant has the ability to absorb the flavors and aroma of neighboring plants. Its flavors also depend on the soil composition, climatic conditions, and the altitude of its growing region. Hence, even though it is the same tea plant, its leave can have different shape, texture, aroma, and flavors.
In the case of oolong tea, the taste can also vary drastically due to a wide difference in the oxidation level. Eventually, the taste depends on how the tea master decides to process and shape the tea leaves.
Generally, the taste of oolong tea can vary from being very light to very strong, flowery to grassy, sweet to spicy, toasty to smoky, and so on. We can further understand the taste by looking into some varieties available in the market.
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VARIETIES OF OOLONG TEA
Genuine varieties of tea are very rare and expensive. However, drinking these famous varieties can give you an extraordinary experience. Here we have listed some of these teas from China and Taiwan.
- Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe): This Chinese dark oolong is the most expensive tea. It has floral, nutty, earthy, and slightly woody flavors with hints of dark chocolate, molasses, and dried fruits. Some people consider it as the king of teas due to its smooth and long-lasting aftertaste.
- Shui Jin Gui (Golden Water Turtle): It is one of the top five Wuyi teas. When brewed correctly, it has emerald green liquor with a subtle, fruity, flowery, spicy, citrusy, and grassy flavors. Sometimes it also gives slight chocolaty and malty notes.
- Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy): It is a premium Chinese tea that has light, delicate, sweet, and flowery flavors. It also has hints of stone fruit, caramel, nuts, and orchids.
- Jin Xuan (Milk Oolong): Made from a hybrid tea plant, this tea from Taiwan has oval-shaped leaves that give golden yellow liquor. It is one of the most famous teas with light, floral, sweet, buttery, and naturally milky taste.
- Ban Tian Yao: This rare tea from the Mount Wuyi has rich, strong, and complex flavors with a mild smoky taste. Usually, it can have tobacco, mineral, cocoa, honey, char, and slightly woody notes.
- Oriental Beauty: It is a heavily oxidized tea from Taiwan. It has amber-colored liquor with naturally fruity aromas and an extremely sweet taste without bitterness.
HOW TO BREW OOLONG TEA?
Brewing tea is an art that varies with every individual. Especially, in the case of oolong tea that can either resemble green tea or black tea, there is more than just one right way of brewing. Keeping that in mind, use the following guidelines as a starting point.
- Take high-quality water that is fresh and pure.
- Generally, you can use brewing temperature that is around 175-210° F. Exact temperature would vary with the variety you are using.
- Either use 2-3 g of loose leaf tea per 8 fl. Oz water or use the amount mentioned on your tea package. Later, you can adjust the tea amount to make it more strong or light.
- The steep time can vary anywhere between 1-5 min. The exact steep time depends on your preference and the variety of tea.
- Always cover your tea while it steeps to prevent the heat loss.
- Usually, oolong tea can withstand multiple infusions, with each infusion further revealing a new layer of flavor and a richer taste. With high-quality tea, you can have 3-5 infusions.
- To have multiple infusions, you need to reduce your individual steep time and avoid over steeping your tea.
- It is best to enjoy the original taste without milk, lemon, sugar, or honey.
- Finally, it is time to taste, asses, and adjust the brewing process as per your preference.