Oolong Tea Simple Yet Complex

What is oolong tea? We get asked that question a lot at the tea shop. The simple answer is oolong (or wulong) is the tea type found on the tea continuum between green and black. Yet, it’s a bit more complex. We share some oolong basics to ease you into the labyrinth of the oolong tea world.

Oolong Tea and Oxidation

Tea is classified by its degree of oxidation. Green tea is non-oxidized, whereas black tea is fully oxidized. Anything in between is an oolong. Oolongs can be lightly (20%+-) to more fully (80%) oxidized, making them the most variable type of tea available! A banana is a good example of this. A yellow banana with no brown spots would be a green tea. A fully brown banana would be a black tea. Various degrees of the brown banana would then compare to oolong.

In addition to being classified by their semi-oxidized state, oolongs are grown at a wide range of elevations. Those grown at higher altitudes tend to have delicate and floral qualities, such as our High Mountain Oolong. Grown high in the mountains of the Nantou region of Taiwan, this tea is exemplary of a quality oolong. The creation of oolong teas can also involve special tea plant cultivars which are used to produce specific oolong varieties.

Oolong Tea Processing

Oolong teas are also categorized by the unique processing steps they undergo. The processing steps include a series of unique systems of drying and rolling or twisting the tea. Each farm and processing facility has a “tea master” in charge of tea production. These masters designate the methods needed to create particular tasting notes and aromas. Tea masters teach their techniques and oversee quality control for the tea. Each tea master brings a unique creative processes. This contributes yet again to the wide range of nuance found in oolongs.

Oolongs are typically formed into only two styles. They can either be rolled into long, twisted shapes (the more traditional style), or “wrap-rolled” into small balls. Both forms produce tea that can be steeped multiple times. With each steep the leaves unfurl further and the drinker experiences changing flavors. These characteristics make oolongs perfect teas for Gong Fu style, a traditional Chinese tea brewing style, and for tea tasting!

Oolong Tasting Notes

All these differences in oolong oxidation, horticulture, and processing (also referred to as terroir) creates a world of tea unlike no other. Different styles of oolongs offer a wide variety of flavors and aromas, each one as distinct as the next. Oolongs can be anywhere from floral and sweet to more woody and roasted, and even light, fresh and complex. This means that if you try one oolong, the next one you try may taste completely different!

If you are looking for a rich and woody tea with stone-fruit notes try our Lake Missoula Black Pearl Oolong. This is a higher oxidized oolong and can be steeped almost indefinitely without developing any hint of astringency. It also has miraculously high levels of caffeine! Want to experience a less oxidized oolong? Try our Trade Route Oolong which is both buttery and floral.

Dive into the limitless depths oolong tea offers and take a note from us: as complex and perplexing as oolong can seem, all it takes is a sip to realize the true simplicity of great tea.

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