Nestled between its more well-known green and black siblings lies the world of Oolong tea. Oxidised more than green tea but less than black tea, it’s all Camellia synesis, but only Oolong earns the title of the Black Dragon (probably due to the twisted, mystical shapes of the large blackened leaves, although theories range from a simple regional name to tales of a fortuitously distracted tea picker, Wu Liang!).
What does Oolong tea taste like?
The beauty of Oolong lies in the endless combinations of conditions and timings that go into its production. Ranging from 8% to 85% oxidation (more on that later!), lighter, more floral ‘greener’ teas develop into the deep, woody ‘blacker’ teas – you could try a new variety every day and you’d never taste the same thing twice!
Where does Oolong tea come from?
Although it wouldn’t take its current form until the early 1700’s, Oolong’s lineage stretches as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Developed in the Fujian province on the southeast coast of mainland China, and originally produced in thin brick form, Beiyun Tea’s unique oxidation process led to it becoming the Song Dynasty’s first tribute tea (960-1279). This seal of approval from the Emperor, which required the region to produce tea to be sent to the Royal Court, ensured that travelling dignitaries were introduced to their first-ever taste of oxidised tea… and they never looked back!
In 1725, tea producers in the Anxi region of Fujian adapted these traditional techniques to develop something new – Oolong. In 1796, Oolong Tea traveled with local tea growers to Republic of China, where today each region is known for its unique take on Oolong tea
The Gongfu tea ceremony
A traditional Chinese Tea Ceremony and practiced widely in ROC, Gongfu is essentially the art of doing something properly, and the Gongfu tea ceremony often features Oolong at its core. During the ceremony, care, effort, and quiet dedication go into producing not just the perfect cup of tea, but a perfect tea-drinking experience. Although intricate, the ceremony itself should never be laborious – easy-to-learn but requiring time and focus to perfect, it’s about treating the tea, your guests, and the moment you’re in with the respect it deserves. You can read more about the Gong Fu tea ceremony here.
How is Oolong tea made?
Whilst the climate, soil and plant itself all play a role, the real craftsmanship of Oolong lies in how it’s processed. Most tea begins out the same way. Once picked, it’s allowed to wither, drying the leaves to make them easier to work with and allowing the oxidation process to begin.
To get things going the withered leaves are then tossed in baskets, rolled or even crushed. As the cell walls are broken down, oxidative enzymes mix with various substrates, and the true flavours of the final tea begin to develop. (If they’ve got this far, this is where the green teas follow their own path).
Oxidation is what makes the magic happen. As the newly released enzymes, tannins and essential oils mix with the oxygen in the air, the Oolong tea’s complex flavours emerge. Constantly evolving, they can be light and fruity, or thick and nutty. There can be honey, chocolate, or woodsmoke; the real art lies in choosing the exact conditions under which oxidation occurs and, most importantly, when to bring it to an end.
When the time is right, gently heating the leaves stops the oxidation process, and roasting can add further interest to the flavour (black teas are allowed to oxidise fully). The Oolong is then rolled into its final shape and dried fully. Any remaining moisture at this point makes the tea very like to spoil. Oolong teas are traditionally twisted into long strands or shaped into tight balls.
How to brew Oolong tea
Brewing times and temperatures can vary enormously, depending on the shape of your tea, the water you’re using, even your altitude! Your best bet is to see whether whoever sold you the tea can give you some detailed instructions, although you can find a rough guide here.
Can you steep Oolong more than once?
Not only can you, you should! Good Oolong can be steeped as many as 6 times, each time delivering a different, evolving flavour profile. In fact, most people think it’s at its best the 3rd or 4th time around.
NOVELTEA’s Tale of Oolong
Our aim is to take you on a culinary journey, combining teas, spirits and botanicals from around the world to produce a unique, ready-to-drink alcoholic tea blend.
The Tale of Oolong blends together Formosa Oolong Tea, Green Tea, jasmine flowers, red rose petals, papaya and mango flakes into a floral mix, deliciously enriched with Scotch Whisky.
Evoking ancient tea traditions, our rich and fragrant Oolong flavour brings a natural sweetness, with floral traces of jasmine and rose petals complemented perfectly by the soft and fruity notes of our Scottish Whisky Blend. Delicious straight from the bottle (although we do at least recommend a glass), The Tale of Oolong also makes a fantastic cocktail ingredient.