Traditionally from China and Taiwan but thanks to the creativity of artisan tea producers, increasingly available from many other countries, oolong teas come in different styles and offer a huge variety of flavours.
Unlike fully oxidised black tea and unoxidised green tea, oolong teas are all partially oxidised – ranging from about 10% to 80% – making them the most complex type of tea to produce. In effect, this wonderful tea category builds a bridge between green tea and black tea and caters for every possible taste.
What is high mountain oolong tea?
Tea connoisseurs particularly prize teas grown at high altitudes. The term for such teas is “high mountain oolong tea”, “gao shan oolong” or – for teas grown at very high altitudes – “frozen oolong”. To be designated as a high grown tea, the tea must have been grown at an altitude of above 1000 meters. The best high mountain teas come from small tea gardens and are produced in such small amounts that they rarely find their way to Europe.
Because tea plants that grow at high elevations develop more complex flavours, high mountain tea is ideal for multiple infusions and for preparing “gong fu cha” style.
Types of oolong tea
- The lightest type of oolong tea is Bao Zhong (Pouchong). These teas are so lightly oxidised that they are sometimes referred to as green teas.
- The most popular, more modern type of oolong tea are also referred to as Jade or balled oolongs. These are also lightly oxidised (20-30%), and the large leaf shoots are rolled into tight balls. Most high mountain oolong teas are jade or balled oolongs.
- The darker oolongs, also known as open-leaf oolongs, are oxidised to 40-80% and are darker in the cup than the other two types of oolong.
How oolong tea is produced
An interesting difference between oolong and other types of tea is that the producers often use three leaves and a bud instead of just one or two leaves and a bud.
After picking and withering, comes the important step of controlling oxidisation. If the tea is a semi-ball, rolled style tea, the production process may spread over two days, during which time the leaves are repeatedly heated, stirred, rolled and compressed. In addition to the previous steps some oolongs are roasted and some are aged. The heating/stirring/rolling steps of production are very work intense and take great skill to carry out.
Our most popular oolongs come from Taiwan, a beautiful island that has the ideal conditions for growing tea. Of the open leaf “strip style” oolongs, one you must try if you get a chance is Dan Cong Honey Orchid from the Phoenix (Feng Huang) mountains in China’s eastern Guangdong province.
Popular oolong teas
Undoubtedly the most well known oolong amongst visitors who come to our shop in Stuttgart is “milk / milky oolong”. Buyer beware! There are two different types of milk oolong and these are dramatically different in taste. Please read our article about milk oolong for more information.
Other popular oolongs:
- While high grown teas are much sought after, the (hard to come by) low-grown Pinglin Bao Zhong (Pouchong) is also one of the most popular oolongs in our range.
- Also low-grown, but a great hit amongst our customers is “Four Seasons Oolong“, otherwise known as “Si Ji Chun”.
- Moving higher up in the mountain range, the deliciously fruity, sweet and creamy Ali Shan Qing Xin is one of the most well known and popular balled oolongs.
How to brew oolong tea
Depending on the style of the leaf, premium quality oolong tea can be brewed 5-8 times.
There are two different preparation methods we recommend: We can either make the tea “western style, using a teapot with a sieve, water at 90°C and a volume of tea between 12-15g for 1 liter of water.
Alternatively, the tea can be made “Gong Fu Cha” style, in a small teapot or gaiwan (a lidded bowl). With this method, prior to brewing the first pot of tea, the leaves are rinsed and moistened by filling the pot with boiled water that is poured away a few seconds later. Then the fun starts!
For the first infusion the tea is allowed to steep for about fifty seconds. After that, add about 10-15 seconds for the second and third steeping, with subsequent steeping times of 2 minutes each. Most Taiwanese oolongs can be brewed this way five times, and often more.
Serving oolong as iced tea
Oolongs make delicious iced tea. This can either be prepared as a cold brew, or by making the tea hot and chilling it or – our favourite method: Instead of throwing used leaves away, by putting them into a jug, filling it up with cold water and letting the „spent” tea leaves continue to release their flavour over a few hours or overnight.