With Taiwan being our first country of exploration, we’ve encountered a variety of Oolongs that are wonderfully vast and different. Being one of the type of teas that is less recognized in the states, I commonly get asked the question: “What is Oolong tea?”
Oolong is a type of tea defined by its processing procedure. After being plucked, it is typically wilted, under the sun, and the bruised to further oxidation. As the green leaves turn darker, it is then heated at the appropriate time to stop oxidation.
What makes Oolongs a unique type of tea is how it is oxidized. I feel that it is one of the most versatile type of tea in terms of how it can be processed. If we compare this type to Green or Black teas, Oolong teas are somewhere between Green and Black in terms of oxidation. Green teas are one of the least oxidized teas and Black teas are fully oxidized. Due to the processing procedures of Oolongs, they are oxidized somewhere between the levels of Green and Black teas. Oolong tea can lean anywhere in this spectrum. They can be greener, in taste and aroma, such as green teas, or more robust such as black teas!
Loose leaves for Oolongs teas can vary depending on how it is processed. It can range between long and leaves rolled up in a ball form. Most Taiwanese and Anxi Oolongs can be found rolled up in a ball form while Wuyi Oolongs are long and twisted. However, there are common exceptions in Taiwan Oolongs which are long and twisted such as Baozhong or Oriental Beauty (Bai Hao). One can trace the origins of Taiwan Oolongs to that of China, derived from Anxi County, as most farmers in Taiwan still process their Oolong tea into a rolled ball form.
When making Oolong tea, it starts off with larger leaves being picked. If it is hand picked, standard pickings consist of the bud, smallest leaf at the top, along with one or two leaves under it that shares the same stem. This is done so that the tea leaves can withstand certain bruising and rolling procedures during processing. Modern and more automated processes consists of machines cutting the leaves at a certain height. There are arguments for one method of picking, hand or machine, being superior compared to the other, from the result of the tea, but that is up to opinion.
After picking, the tea leaves are spread out to be withered. At this stage, the fresh leaves are laid out to dry and oxidize slowly under heat. This can be powered by the sun or utilize an automated process such as an indoor withering machine which heats the leaves from below.
The next stage involves bruising to further oxidize and add to that chemical change within the leaves. This is done by tossing or tumbling the leaves in an area where the sides can be slightly cut up to further that chemical change.
Once the leaves have oxidized to the desired level, farmers or processors then heats the batch to stop the leaves from oxidizing any further. During this stage, tea leaves can be rolled and heated into its distinct ball form as well. Some farmers utilize bamboo charcoal to heat the leaves and remove any moisture from the leaves.
Taste & Aromas
Depending on the terroir and processing procedures, Oolong teas can exhibit a variety of flavors and fragrances. They fall on many parts of the flavor wheel including earthy, floral, herbal, fruity, nutty, sweet and acidic flavors. Below, are three examples of our teas which goes from lightly oxidized to dark.
Baozhong – lightly oxidized, floral, vegetal, sweet
Alishan – oxidized, vegetal, floral, creamy, sweet
Muzha – heavily oxidized, earthy, fruity, roasted
Steeping loose leaf Oolong tea is one of the simplest in terms of determining temperatures. Most can be enjoyed near or at boiling point. Usually from 195-212F. We recommend to brew the ball rolled Oolongs at a higher temperature so that the leaves can unravel and provide those wonderful flavors and aromas.
We hope you were able to get a closer took into the world of Oolong teas. We’ll be taking an in depth look a Tawain Black Teas next and what makes them unique!