About Oolong Teas [+]
Oolong tea is a category of partially oxidized tea. It falls between fully oxidized black teas and un-oxidized green teas. This tea is called "Wu Long Cha" in Chinese, which translates as "black dragon." Technically, Wu Long is the name of a variety, while the tea category is "blue-green tea" (Qing Cha – 青茶). However, Wu Long got popular in time, so people accepted it as a designated name for the entire category.
Farmers make Oolong tea only from particular tea bushes growing in specific geographical regions. Indeed, only a few areas in the world know of their intricate production methods. These regions are Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan. However, as of recent, you may find Wu Long Cha production in new areas as well.
Farmers produce these teas from larger, more mature leaves. During processing, they continuously alter the shaking and resting of the leaves. Shaking causes their edges to "bruise". In turn, it brings about a brown or red color on the outside, while the middle of the leaves stays green.
Bruising the tea leaves is essential for breaking down the tea leaf's cell walls, activating the oxidation enzymes allowing the polyphenols inside the leaves to interact with oxygen. Furthermore, the leaves release oils that alter the tea's final flavor.
The amount of oxidation depends on the desired type of tea and, of course, the skill of the tea maker. The result may be a lightly fermented Oolong tea, similar to a pale delicate-tasting green tea. Or one which is almost fully fermented, like a dark and bold-flavored black tea.
Oolong is an artisan tea - its production requires some of the most sophisticated loose leaf tea production skills. A tea enthusiast might often compare Oolong tea artisans to boutique winemakers.
Oolong Tea Vs. Green Tea and Oolong Tea Vs. Black Tea (Hong Cha)
Indeed, many who have tried a lightly oxidized oolong might say they are drinking green tea. On the other hand, those who've had a highly oxidized, roasted oolong may say they are drinking black tea. In reality, oolong tea is in between.
The main difference with green tea lies in the presence of oxidation. Green tea doesn't go through an oxidizing process and will always be more light, grassy, and refreshing. When compared to black tea, Oolong doesn't quite reach the oxidation levels of hong cha. If we allow it to keep oxidizing, we will get black tea, which is darker, more robust, with characteristic notes of malt and honey.
When drinking Oolong tea side by side with any other type of loose leaf tea, there is no mistake that they are different.
Types of Wu Long Cha
Wu Long Cha splits into two main categories: light Oolong teas and dark Oolong teas. Experts further understand and categorize Oolong by its age, region, bush variety, and harvest season, among others, just like wine.
Popular varieties of Chinese Oolong tea are as follows:
Tie Guan Yin is one of the most challenging Oolong teas to make due to its intricate tossing technique (yaoqing). The result is an incomparable floral aroma typical of TGY teas. This variety of Oolong can be light and more floral or, on the other hand, more heavily roasted with a soothing baked flavor. Two areas produce this tea — Anxi in China and Taiwan.
Dan Cong — is a family of Oolong teas and their corresponding cultivars. Every Dan Cong Oolong mimics a particular flavor. There are ten official Dan Cong Oolongs when classified according to aroma type. Ya Shi Xiang (gardenia scent, also known as the famous Duck Shit Oolong) and Mi Lan Xiang (orchid scent) are among the most popular varieties. Dan Cong tea trees grow semi-wildly, with tall, chaotic bushes and trees, in the Phoenix Mountains of Guandong, China, considered oolong tea's birthplace. Today, Dancong spreads through the Chao'An and Raoping counties in Guangdong. Various fruit gardens often surround the tea gardens, which only intensifies their excellent taste.
Yancha — also known as Wuyi Rock Tea or Cliff Tea- grow in the rocky Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province. They have an unmistakable mineral taste that has inspired many Chinese poets. The most famous Wuyi teas are Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian, Shui Jin Gui, Bei Dou, Rou Gui, Bai Ji Guan, and Tie Luo Han.
Other common types of Wu Long Cha are Taiwanese Oolongs, such as Alishan Oolong, Dong Ding Oolong, and Oriental Beauty Oolong. A common name for these Taiwanese teas is Formosa Oolong, Formosa being the island's old name.
To find the best Oolong tea for you, think if you like refreshing or robust teas more, and choose accordingly.
What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?
The flavor possibilities are endless! The lightly roasted Oolong tea taste is refreshing, green, floral, and fruity. Or creamy and milky like Jin Xuan. Wuyi tea will have a rockier profile, full of minerals and roasted notes. Dark Oolongs taste robust, roasted, with notes of caramel, nuts, and ripe fruits. Each tea is different, so doing a tea tasting is always best.
How To Make Oolong Tea
Most loose leaf Oolong brews best at water temperatures of around 195-212ºF (90-100ºC). However, you can always check the label or description of the specific tea you're brewing to be sure.
Choosing the proper teaware is very important for loose leaf Oolong tea. For the rolled, big-leaf varieties like Alishan Oolong, Dong Ding, and Tie Guan Yin, it's necessary to have a tall and round teapot or gaiwan that gives them ample room to expand.
On the other hand, thin, curled Oolongs like Dan Cong and Cliff Tea benefit from short and wide teapots. These teas don't require as much time and space to open up.
If you desire to drink your Wu Long Cha according to the ways of Gong Fu Cha, we suggest using a gaiwan or the following yixing teapot:
For Light Oolongs:
- Tall and round teapot with thin walls
- Round teapots are perfect for mellowing and rounding out teas, in turn making them sweeter. They also ensure enough room to expand for rolled oolongs.
For Dark Oolongs:
- Flat teapots with thick walls
- Darker teas require longer brewing times; the leaves rest on the bottom, releasing their best qualities.
Oolong teas are also exceptionally delicious and refreshing as a cold brew tea.
Oolong Tea Caffeine Content
Most Oolong teas have mid-range caffeine content. Farmers make Oolong teas from larger, more mature leaves with lower caffeine content than young buds. Many people find that Oolong is a tea that helps you focus – thanks to the natural stimulant in tea, L-theanine. In combination with caffeine, L-theanine provides tea drinkers with focus and calm, creative energy that doesn't transform into the typical coffee jitters. Therefore, being not overly caffeinated, Oolong is still an energizing tea.
Oolong Tea Processing
We can divide the production of this tea into the following steps:
Whithering – the tea-maker exposes the leaves to sunlight and/or lets them rest in the shade to remove the excessive moisture.
Making the green – alternates shaking and resting the leaves to activate the oxidating enzymes. In this phase, the leaf edges "bruise." The oxidation amount depends on the desired finish of the tea and the skill level of the producer.
Kill green – producers halt the oxidation by high temperature.
Rolling – the juices captured in the leaves and responsible for the tea's taste are activated, and excessive moisture is further released. Different regions have different rolling styles that might vary significantly. Some areas roll their Oolongs into a tight ball, while others twist the leaves.
Roasting – farmers roast the tea leaves in multiple cycles, often employing special charcoal and varying intensity levels, depending on the oolong style. Indeed, properly roasting the tea is an art form of its own. It is where the taste goes through its final transformation.
High Mountain Oolong Tea
High Mountain oolongs are a unique tea category prevalent in Taiwan, an island with many high mountain peaks. The local teas come from mountains like Dong Ding and Ali.
To be considered a high mountain tea, farmers must plant the tea fields at an elevation of 800m above sea level and up. Some set the bar at 1000m and up.
It's not an easy task to grow tea at high elevations. As the elevation increases, the soil gets rockier, the air becomes colder, and there is less available rainwater due to the gradient of the land. Inevitably, these factors reduce possible crop yield. Growing tea bushes in such conditions can be extremely difficult. The harvest is only worth the extra effort for the farmers when it is enough to demand higher prices.
Overall, high mountain teas have a more complex flavor with less bitterness and a creamier finish.
Organic Oolong Tea
If you wish to buy organic oolong tea, we recommend going with high mountain teas. Naturally, the high altitudes eliminate the need for any pesticide, as pests don't thrive at such heights. Furthermore, the tea gardens are far from roads and industrial areas with pollutants. Even if the tea has no organic mark, you can rest assured that high mountain teas are organic.
GABA Oolong Tea
Farmers process oolong tea with GABA differently than other teas: first, before harvest, the tea bushes are shaded for two weeks to increase the tea's natural glutamic acid index. Once harvested, the leaves are placed into vacuum drums, where the oxygen is removed and replaced with nitrogen, and the tea leaves stock up on GABA. Then, the tea leaves can be further processed into a tea type of choice. Usually, however, you will find GABA Oolong tea. Drinking this tea usually leaves us feeling more calm and relaxed than usual.
What Is Tea with GABA?
GABA stands for Gamma-AminoButyric Acid. It's a component directly responsible for regulating our muscle tone, calming the nerves, improving sleep, and balancing our moods.
A GABA tea must have at least 150 mg of gamma-Aminobutyric acid for every 100 grams of tea leaves. Today, the biggest producers of this tea are in Taiwan, primarily producing GABA oolong tea.
We can also receive GABA from regular teas, not only from special GABA-rich tea. The L-theanine that we find in tea aids the body in its gamma-Aminobutyric acid production. Having this component in our bodies is vital for maintaining physical and emotional balance.
We call teas that grow in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province, China, Wuyi Rock Oolong, Cliff Tea, or Yancha. Wuyi tea is a unique type of Chinese Oolong.
Rock Tea owes its name to the rocky, mountainous area where it grows. Thanks to the soil rich in minerals, it inherits an unmistakable "rocky" taste.
Popular varieties of Wuyi rock tea are Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian, Shui Jin Gui, Bei Dou, Rou Gui, Bai Ji Guan, and Tie Luo Han. It is incredibly delicious and, at times, rare tea.
Dancong means "single bush" or "single thicket". The birthplace of this type of Oolong is the Phoenix Mountains of Guandong, China. But don't expect to see a small tea bush. High-quality Dan cong Oolong comes from trees. It makes harvesting much harder as farmers need to climb up the branches. The trees are often wild or semi-wild and are decades old. The older trees with a well-developed root system are called Lao Cong.
Some Dan Cong Oolongs mimic a particular flavor, turning this tea into a unique experience. There are currently ten official Dan Cong Oolongs, some of the most popular being Ya Shi Xiang (gardenia scent, also known as the famous Duck Shit Oolong) and Mi Lan Xiang (orchid scent). Various fruit gardens often surround the gardens where this tea grows, which only intensifies their exquisite taste.
Milk Oolong also goes by the name Jin Xuan. It has an unforgettable sweet and milky flavor and aroma. The aroma of Milk Oolong comes from the specific tea bush that farmers grow for this loose leaf tea - Jin Xuan (also referred to as #12). Furthermore, proper oxidation and roasting are crucial for a creamy and milky Oolong.
Milk Oolong is so delicious that some people might think that tea farmers add milk during production. Some tea producers will go as far as to tell you they process the tea with milk. Jin Xuan is never actually made with milk. Poor quality Milk Oolong may have artificial flavors added, so be careful. An easy way to tell if it's authentic Milk Oolong is by the aroma. It shouldn't be an overly intensive milk smell but rather a floral scent with very light, faint milky notes. The fragrance of authentic Jin Xuan tea will last for many brews, and the tea soup will leave a creamy aftertaste. On the other hand, the "milky taste" of a fake one will disappear after the first brew.
Does Oolong Tea Go Bad?
So how long does tea last? It's true that all tea eventually goes bad. It won't rot or spoil, and it won't give you food poisoning. However, tea past its prime is lifeless and nutrition-less.
While green tea has a storage age of about a year, we have more leeway with Oolong. You can easily store Oolong teas for a few years if you keep them in a container that doesn't let any light and air through and in a dry space void of pungent smells.
Furthermore, Oolongs become unique and very delicious when we age them! We should keep this tea stored in an airtight container, away from sunlight, for at least three years to age it. The longer we age our wu long cha, the more complex the flavors become. We recommend aging roasted Oolongs versus fresh, greener ones.