May 17 2021 – Diana L
The popularity of Oolong tea has grown in the past century, yet it's still fairly uncommon to many people, even daily tea drinkers. When it comes to tea, oolong is truly in a category of its own offering so much diverse flavor, complexity, and body achieved simply with special processing methods to the same Camellia sinensis plant as green tea and black tea.
As a partially oxidized tea, Oolong tea falls between black tea and green tea. Some tea lovers feel it has a similar flavor and aroma to pu-erh tea.
The most famous oolongs are grown in China and Taiwan. Oolongs from Taiwan are typically less oxidized than those from China. A few countries producing different styles of oolong today are India, Japan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and Thailand.
Oolong leaves are recognizable for their unique shape. During processing, the leaves are curled, rolled, and twisted into a spindle or ball shape.
Traditionally, the tea master determines the shape. It is an essential detail for developing the aroma. You can identify high-quality oolong leaves simply by their shape. Depending on the technique used to roll the leaves during processing, the master can subtly transform the final aroma of the tea.
What is Oxidation?
Oxidation is the chemical reaction that causes tea leaves to turn brown. The oxidation process is responsible for the flavor and aroma of the finished tea. Oxidation may be prevented completely such as for green tea or white tea. Black tea is allowed to completely oxidize, while for Oolong tea, oxidation is initiated, controlled, and stopped.
The oxidation of oolong can range from 20 to 80 percent, resulting in leaves that vary from bright green or yellow, to very dark amber or red color. This semi-oxidized state allows the tea to retain the good qualities of both unoxidized and oxidized teas.
Oxidation modifies the compound structure of the tea leaf. Less oxidized teas typically contain more beneficial antioxidants. You can judge the level of oxidation by looking at the leaf color – less oxidized oolongs are lighter, while darker leaves are a sign of higher oxidation.
What does Oolong tea taste like?
Since the tea master controls the oxidation process, the flavor of oolong is also controlled by the tea master. Lower oxidized leaves will have a fresh or floral flavor with a honey aroma, while the higher oxidized oolongs are often roasted creating a robust, nutty flavor with a roasted and complex aroma. Oolongs that are allowed to age will take on light notes of a mellow whiskey.
You will find oolong has a smooth finish without needing any added cream or sugar. While black tea or green tea can become bitter from steeping length or temperature, oolong tea tends to be much more forgiving.
Oolong also can be the perfect base for blending with other flavors. Without overpowering like black tea, oolong provides a perfect balance allowing all the flavors to work together on your palate.
Jin Xuan oolong, known as "oolong milk tea", has a highly sought-after buttery, creamy flavor with a smooth finish. The creaminess of this oolong is a result of its high mountain terrior with rich soil, moisture from mist or rain, as well as the right dose of sunshine.
When processed and lightly roasted, the leaves naturally produce a milk-like flavor and aroma. There are some artificial milk oolongs that have been infused with a milk flavor, and are generally labeled "flavored".
Not all oolongs grow on mist-covered mountains. Some thrive in lower foothills forested with bamboo. Leaves plucked in spring produce a more floral flavor, while those plucked in winter are roasted to create a more robust, woodsy flavor.
Does Oolong tea have caffeine?
Yes, oolong tea has caffeine. Oolong is similar to green tea when it comes to caffeine. Both contain about 10-60 mg per 8 ounces. As a comparison, coffee contains approximately 70 to 130 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces.
It is important to note that the more highly oxidized oolongs may contain higher caffeine levels, closer to a black tea. This can vary depending on how the tea plant was cultivated and how the oolong tea was processed.
Oolong tea benefits
Drinking a few cups of oolong tea per day many possible health benefits:
- Aid in weight loss
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve sleep
- Balance gut microbiome
- Reduce high blood sugar
- Fight cancer
- Improve heart health
- Protect brain health
- Reduce cholesterol levels
- Improve bone density
- Improve dental health
- Reduce risk of stroke
- Increase alertness
- Reduce eczema
How to Prepare Oolong Tea
As with all our tea, we recommend the loose-leaf form over tea bags, and Oolong tea is no different. Teabags typically offer lower quality flavor and aroma being made from the dust and fannings of the leaf as opposed to the full loose leaf. When steeping loose leaf oolong, be sure to use a vessel that allows the leaf to unfurl and release the flavors and aroma to its fullest.
Here are a few general oolong tea brewing tips:
- Start with fresh, cold filtered water.
- Steeping temperature and time can vary depending on the oolong, but generally between 180 and 200F for two to three minutes.
- If you don't have a temperature-controlled kettle, let your boiling water sit for two to three minutes to reach the proper temperature before pouring it over your leaves.
- We suggest brewing with 2 teaspoons of loose leaf oolong tea per 8 ounces of water.
- Allow the Oolong leaves to steep for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Avoid over steeping your oolong tea. Although it is more forgiving than green tea or black tea, oolongs are designed to taste best with multiple short infusions. Taste your tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.
- Keep your oolong tea covered during the steep to keep the heat in the vessel.
- You will benefit from using high-quality oolong tea leaves, as they can be re-steeped several times. The leaves will unfurl from their twisted shape a bit more with each steep, revealing additional layers of flavor. 3 to 5 infusions are not out of the question.
- Tea masters have spent hours perfecting Oolong tea. To fully experience the flavors that were intended for you, try sipping it plain before adding milk or sugar.
Now that you know all about Oolong tea, all you need to know is where to buy oolong...we can help with that!