The fascination of oolong tea
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. High mountain oolong tea from Taiwan is especially popular amongst oolong connoisseurs.
Unlike fully oxidised black tea and un-oxidised green tea, oolong teas are all partially oxidized – ranging from 10% to 80% – making them the most complex type of tea to produce. In effect, oolong teas build a bridge between green tea and black tea and cater for every possible taste.
High mountain oolong tea is the term given to teas grown at altitudes above 1000 meters. Produced in small amounts, the best high mountain oolong tea rarely finds its way to Europe.
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.
Why high mountain oolong tea is special
Taiwan has a long mountain range running through the island that has ideal conditions for growing tea. Teas grown above 1000 meters altitude are considered to be high mountain oolong tea (Gao Shan oolong).
Because tea plants that grow at high elevations develop more complex flavours, high mountain oolong tea is ideal for multiple infusions and for preparing “gong fu cha” style.
Manufacture of oolong tea
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 oxidation. If the oolong 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.
Our most popular oolongs come from Taiwan, a beautiful island that has the ideal conditions for growing tea.
Celebrating oolong tea
Although rarely practised in the West, Gong Fu Cha and Cha Xi (the tea setting) is part of everyday life in Asia. When tea producer Katie came to visit us in Stuttgart we were amazed at how simply she transformed our counter into the perfect setting for enjoying tea. The choice of tea, teaware, ornaments and accessories and the way in which these are arranged is all part of Cha Xi. Using utensils she had brought with her and flowers she had picked from the street outside our shop she recreated the special atmosphere, harmony and tea ambience we had only previously experienced on our tea travels.
Examples of popular oolong teas
- While high grown oolong tea is much sought after, the low-grown Pinglin Bao Zhong (Pouchong) is also one of the most popular oolong teas.
- Also low-grown, but a great hit amongst our customers in “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 Oolong is one of the most popular balled oolongs.
Tip: Prepare oolong as cold brew or iced tea
Oolongs also make delicious iced tea. This can either be prepared as a cold brew, by making the tea hot and chilling it or – our favourite method: Instead of throwing used oolong 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.
Depending on the style of the leaf, premium quality oolong tea can be brewed 5-8 times.
There are two different methods we recommend for the preparation of oolong tea. 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.