The Origins of Oolong Tea

If oolong tea is your favourite kind of tea or you are just curious about the flavour, read on to learn all about one of China’s best teas on the market!

What is Oolong Tea?

Oolong Tea — which is neither black nor green tea is a semi-fermented tea that lies between un-fermented Green Tea and fermented Black Tea.

Depending on the oxidation degree during the processing of the Oolong tea will determine if it is more like a green tea or a black tea.

The Theory Behind Oolong Tea

Although oolong tea history can be traced back to Fujian, there are no official records that can identify when the first oolong tea was made.

Popular folklore, says that Oolong tea came about from a humble tea grower in China’s Qing dynasty.

Legend has it that late one evening, after a day of plucking tea, the tea grower, on his way back, was distracted by a deer.

Because he was distracted, he forgot about his tea leaves and processing them. He left them all day and because of that, the leaves began to wilt and naturally oxidize.

He could of let the leaves go to waste, but instead, he decided to process them anyway.

They had already started turning extremely brown, so when he started to process them, more oxidation happened.

The results were similar to a black tea but without the bitterness, and lacked tannic strength.

It was smoother, sweeter and fragrant. This humble tea grower named this tea after himself, the Wu Long.

How This Tea Got the Name Oriental Beauty

In the early 19th century, the British ambassador to China dedicated some Oolong tea to the Queen of England. 

The queen was very taken with the unique taste and aroma, as well as its distinctive appearance – quite different to any teas seen before in England – and gave it the name “Oriental Beauty”.

The 7 Step Process of Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea has 7 processing steps:  

The most famous Chinese oolongs are grown in high mountainous regions over rocky terrain and in cool weather.

It is the unique geography and harsh environment that gives these oolongs the rich flavor they are famous for.

Step 1: Withering

Picked leaves are spread out (inside and/or outside in the sun) to soften the cell walls of leaves.

This draws the moisture to the surface for evaporation, softens the leaves, begins natural enzymatic fermentation and sets up the next stage of processing. This also reduces the grassy taste of tea leaves.  

Step 2: Tossing/Bruising (Turning Over)

Known as “Shaking” in Chinese, because in the old days, the leaves were simply shaken in a wicker basket.

Today, this step is done with the aid of machines to further break down the leaves by mechanical means (as opposed to chemical means as in “Withering”).

This improves oxidation and mixes chemical elements from the stems with the leaves, removing bitterness and balancing the flavour of the tea.

Step 3: Oxidization (Partial and Full)

This step continues the natural process of fermentation by allowing the leaves to rest after the Withering or Tossing/Bruising (Turning Over) steps.

The time allowed determines the amount of fermentation for the tea being made.

At this point, the leaves turn to a darker green or even a red colour, due to the breaking down of the cell structure of the leaves. It is at this stage where the tea begins to develop its grassy, flowery or fruity taste characteristics.

Step 4: “Kill-Green” (also known as Fixing”)

Stops the natural fermentation and growing processes within the leaves without damaging them. 

Steaming the leaves, hand pressing in a hot pan and baking techniques are used. This also sets up the next step for Rolling/Forming the leaves.

Step 5: Rolling/Forming

Leaves are passed through hot and/or cold rollers to slightly break down the leaves, which establishes the shape of the leaves and intensifies the tea flavour. 

Step 6: Drying

Establishes the final moisture content of the leaves, stops fermentation, prevents mold growth, removes any grassy leaf taste and develops the tea’s aroma.  Sun drying, pan heating, and hot air methods are used.

Step 7: Firing

(Oolongs) Various methods of roasting in a pan or a basket with charcoal or electric heat are used to give a smoky flavour or a fruity characteristic. 

Tasting oolong tea

The flavour of Oolong Tea can range from light to full-bodied to grassy, and sweet to toasty because the tea is oxidized at varying levels depending on the processing technique of the tea master.

The look of the leaves and the hue of the brewed tea can also vary from green to golden to brown.

Buying and storing oolong tea

Storing an oolong tea properly will ensure that your tea will remain fresh as long as possible.

It’s always a good idea to buy tea from a tea specialist that knows what they are doing and that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged as well as provide storage tips to help prolong the life of the tea.

Blue Tea Box is perfect for that!

It is important to ask your tea specialist about the oxidation levels of your oolong tea.

Tea that has been oxidized longer will be more shelf stable than a less oxidized one.

Oolong tea won’t really go “bad”, but it can get stale if it sits around too long.

The best thing to do is to store the tea properly in a cool dark place, in an opaque airtight container.

Make sure to keep it away from light and moisture, and as far away from pantry items like coffee and spices.

The reason for this is because other flavours can leach into the tea leaves, causing them to take on those flavours.

olong teas can last anywhere from six months to two years before they should be used or replaced.

Preparing oolong tea

Because oolong teas vary wildly in their oxidation levels and processing techniques, many oolongs will have different ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times.

Your tea specialist can help you determine that when you buy it, but here are a few general oolong tea brewing tips:

  • Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water.
  • Generally, oolongs are steeped anywhere between 180 and 200 degrees for 60 seconds to 3 minutes.
  • Most oolong teas are designed to steep multiple times. Each steeping unfurls the rolled or twisted leaves just a little more, revealing even more layers of the flavor profile intended by the tea master who created the tea. It is not uncommon to get 3 to 5 infusions out of a high-quality oolong.
  • Avoid over steeping your oolong tea. Many 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.
  • If your oolong tea came with specific recommendations for brewing, use those. But using about 2 grams of loose leaf tea per 8 oz. cup of water is a safe bet.
  • Cover your oolong tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
  • Tea producers spend a lot of time mastering the art of oolong tea. To best appreciate the handcrafted flavors of an oolong tea, try sipping it plain with no additives like milk or sugar.

Now that you know a little more about Oolong tea, grab a box from Blue Tea Box and try our delicious speciality teas!

Information obtained from Wikipedia

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