Sweet, nuanced, sophisticated - oolong tea is the ideal connoisseur's tea, yet it appeals to many tea newbies, too. Unlike most teas, oolong can be brewed multiple times, and it offers a slightly different flavor profile with each brew. This gives it a great cost-per-cup value and a special appeal for foodies interested in honing their tasting and pairing skills.
Unsure where to start? Our Oolong & White Tea Sampler Set offers a broad mix of oolongs to try, and you can always create your own oolong sampler by mixing and matching sample size orders of whichever oolongs appeal to you.
What does "oolong" mean?
In Chinese, wu-long means "black dragon." The name refers to the long, dark, slender leaves of certain types of oolong tea (such as our Oriental Beauty Oolong). You can see the traditional Chinese name referenced in our oolong packaging, which features a symbol of a black dragon.
Is oolong tea good for me?
Oolong tea comes from the same plant as green tea, white tea and black tea. It has been shown to have many of the same health benefits, and may even have certain added health benefits, such as aiding in weight loss and blood sugar regulation. For more information, check out some of the many articles on oolong's health benefits online.
So, sure, oolong is healthy! What we really love about it, though, is its TASTE! Oolong tea is so rewarding in terms of its aroma, flavor and aftertaste. It's not something you'll want to chug or take like a shot because it's good for you. It's a beverage to be savored. In fact, we find that the relaxation of taking a little time to enjoy oolong tea is just one of its many benefits!
How is oolong tea produced?
Oolong tea's processing is far more complex and skill-intensive than the processing of other tea types. For many years, various oolong processing techniques were considered to be proprietary secrets, and sharing them was a serious criminal offense.
After it is harvested, oolong tea leaves are spread out in a warm, humid area to wilt. This decreases their moisture content and softens them for the next step of processing. Then, the leaves are either rolled or twisted to break the cell walls, then the leaves are allowed to oxidize somewhat. After they have oxidized, they are heated, often in a hot-air tumbler or in a wok-like vessel. The heating stops oxidation and redistributes the moisture content in the leaves.
Often the rolling / twisting, oxidizing and heating steps are repeated several time or more (sometimes over 20 times) to get the flavor and aroma just right. When the tea is oxidized and shaped to the liking of the producer, then the leaves are dried. Drying preserves them, so you can enjoy them at their peak flavor.
Some oolong producers also roast their leaves after oxidation. This imparts a roasty, nutty flavor, somewhere between roasted coffee and toasted or puffed grains.
Where does oolong tea come from?
Oolong originated in the mountains of southeast China (Fujian Province, near Taiwan) about 400 years ago. Oolong production soon spread to Taiwan, where it is considered to be an art form. More recently, India, Thailand and certain other countries started trying their hands at making oolong, too. The results are mixed at best, but we're always on the lookout for the next unusual and delicious oolong to add to our collection, and occasionally we find a non-traditional oolong that impresses us enough to add it to our collection.
How do I brew oolong tea?
Short answer: Carefully, and with a beginner's mind.
Long answer: It depends on the oolong in question and what you like in your oolong, but generally speaking there are two main ways of brewing oolong.
The way you probably already know about is the usual Western way of brewing. You put about a teaspoon of leaves into a brewing vessel, add water that's somewhere around boiling (less for green tea and some other kinds), and brew it for three to five minutes. That's fine and dandy if you want to brew your leaves once and get a basic flavor from them. We recommend experimenting with different brewing times and temperatures to see what brings out the best in each brew for you.
The other way is more complex and more rewarding. Originating in China and mastered in Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is known as gong fu cha (or "high skill tea"), with the words gong fu referring to the same level of skill that kung fu calls to mind. It takes more time and effort, and the results are enough to knock the socks off any tea connoisseur. This brewing method involves using a LOT of leaf (as in, you'd usually fill your brewing vessel at least halfway with leaves) and VERY short brewing times (ten seconds is not unusual). There's a lot of experimentation involved in this approach, and the best brewers are always looking to improve their brewing game as they go. It's not for newbies, but if you want to get deeper into tea, it's certainly worth learning more about.
What else should I know about oolong?
We're so glad you asked! Oolong is a much-beloved tea in much of China and in all of Taiwan. If you've never had a great oolong before, the extent of oolong obsessiveness there might surprise you. For example, across Taiwan there are oolong competitions at several times during the year. Producers enter their best teas into blind competitions judged by oolong connoisseurs for a chance at large cash rewards, incredible prestige and enormous bragging rights. Who knew?