Oolong teas have long since been a staple among tea lovers, and at the same time it is a type of loose-leaf, traditional tea that has been mysterious to many tea drinkers. If you’re the later type of tea drinker, this article will guide you through the history and varieties of organic Oolong teas. We’ll help you choose the right organic Oolong tea for your palette, and give you some brewing instructions.
Like most teas, Oolong teas are traditionally Chinese. ‘Oolong’, or ‘Wu-Long’, literally translates from Chinese to ‘Black Dragon’. This name is said to come from the appearance of the Oolong tea leaves, which were traditionally dark and curled into shapes that resembled little dragons.
There is a huge variety of Oolong teas available today. While some Oolong teas fall closer to the taste and appearance of dark black tea, some Oolong teas can be closer to the taste of green teas. There are also flavored varieties of Oolong teas, like Milk Oolong and Peach Oolong.
Basically, Oolong teas can be categorized between green tea and black tea in terms of fermentation levels. Oolong teas go through a fermentation process more extensive than green tea, but not as exhaustive as that of black tea. This unique processing method gives Oolong tea its distinctive flavor profiles, aroma and color.
The History of Oolong Tea:
The real origins of Oolong Tea has been obscured by centuries of history. There are some stories that have endured over the centuries.
The practice of making Oolong teas originated in the Ming Dynasty of Ancient China. Originally, Oolong teas were valued for being highly aromatic and flavorful. They are said to have been reserved as tribute for royalty. Historically, the tribute tea theory claims that the origins of Oolong tea comes from the tradition of making ‘Dragon-Phoenix Cake’ tribute teas.
The Dragon-Phoenix Cake was served as a tribute tea to royalty, and made up of two types of teas, Dragon (Long) and Phoenix (Fong). The loose leaf versions of these tea types is now known as Oolong teas.
Another story of the origins of Oolong tea comes from the story of a tea farmer named Wulong. Wulong was a talented tea-maker in the Anxi region of the Fujian province of China, who also happened to be an easily distracted daydreamer. One day, while making green tea, Wulong got distracted by a deer, accidentally allowing a special batch of extremely aromatic leaves to oxidize a little too much. By the time he was shaken out of his daydream, the leaves had already darkened and become wiry. To save them, he curled them into a special rolled tea that is still loved today.
Though the production of Oolong teas began centuries ago, these teas attained popularity during the Qing dynasty. The tea attained popularity because Emperor Qian Lung fell in love with the aroma and flavors of the tea.
Some Oolongs that were tightly rolled also attained popularity during this time, because they were well suited to multiple steeps. Oolong tea was served from special tea pots called Yixing teapots, made of distinct purple clay as part of the evolving tea ceremonies of the time.
Types of Oolong Teas:
If you are not much of a tea drinker, organic Oolong tea is a great tea to begin with. Organic Oolongs come from a variety of regions, are crafted from an immense variety of specially cultivated tea plants, and offer not just a wide variety of aromas and flavors, but also caters to your taste buds according to how dark or how light you prefer your teas to be.
In this section, we’ll explore how Oolong teas are processed, and the varieties of popular Oolongs you can sample:
How is Oolong tea made?
Tea is extremely sensitive to how it is bred (propagated, or seed-grown), to the soil, water, elevation, and climate of the region it is grown in. Secondly, tea is also sensitive to how it is processed. Certain types of tea variants, grown in specific regions of the world, which are fragrant and flavorful, are most suited to making Oolong teas.
The most popular Oolong tea are mainly farmed and harvested in specific regions of China and Taiwan. However, Oolong teas are also cultivated in regions all over the world, under various growing conditions, climatic conditions and farming techniques. Oolongs also go through a variety of processing techniques, leading to an array of flavors and aromas.
Oxidation of the tea leaves is one of the steps in the production process of teas that we use to categorize teas. The level of oxidation determines whether the tea is green tea, black tea, or somewhere in between – which is where Oolong teas fall. The levels of oxidation the tea leaves undergo may also vary depending on the type of tea leaves, and the characteristics of the tea that the tea maker wants to highlight. This is why lovers of Oolong teas are lucky to have an extremely wide array of unique Oolongs – ranging from round, bright and floral to robust, bold and spikey.
Most popular types of Oolong tea are also usually roasted – either very lightly roasted or dark roasted.
As we look at varieties of organic Oolong teas, we see that Oolong teas exist on a quadrant of dark to light roasts and high to low levels of oxidation.
Types of Organic Oolong Teas
Types and varieties of Organic Oolong teas depend on:
1. Organic Oolong teas by Region:
Chinese Oolong TeasOne of the most popular and more valuable types of Chinese Oolong is the Big Red Robe, or Da Hong Pao. This type of Chinese Oolong is grown in mountainous regions, and has a light and woodsy flavor profile.
Another popular Oolong tea, which also serves as an introductory Oolong tea for many Oolong beginners, is the Chinese Wuyi Oolong. This Oolong is smooth, incredibly aromatic and floral.
A third precious and valuable type of Chinese Oolong is called the Ti Kuan Yin. This tea is named after Kuan Yin, a Chinese goddess of mercy. According to a legend, this tea was a gift from the goddess Kuan Yin to a young farmer, who had devoted himself to cleaning and maintaining her shrine. By cultivating this tea plant, this farmer was able to produce a tea more aromatic and delicious than any other, and shared the abundance and richness of his reward with his entire community.
Taiwanese Oolong Teas:The most popular Oolong tea from Taiwan is known for its characteristics of being close to Green tea. High Mountain Tea is the most popular tea from Taiwan, and is named after the altitude in which this tea is required to grow in, which is above 1000m.
Nepali Oolong Teas:The Shangri-La Oolong organic oolong tea from Eastern Nepali tea mountains is also gaining popularity in the tea world.
Shangri-la Oolong is quite an artistic and unique loose leaf oolong tea. It is not as subtle and/or light as Taiwanese oolongs, rather, it mostly resembles some darker roasted Chinese Oolongs. It does not follow the multiple rolling and oxidation process that a typical oolong would go through. Instead, matured leaves are plucked, withered for a few hours and placed through an enzymer to soften the leaves and also stop the oxidation to a degree.
Shangri-La Oolong is aromatic and sweet like most oolong teas. It has a flavor profile of sweet spices and pepper.
2. Organic Oolong teas by Processing:
Lightly Oxidized, Unroasted Oolong tea:
Baozhong Oolong tea is completely unoxidized and unroasted, making it the lightest organic oolong tea. High mountain Oolong and Jin Xuan Oolong teas are also very lightly oxidized and unroasted. These teas have a very fresh, green flavor profile with strong, floral aromas.
Lightly Oxidized, Lightly Roasted Oolong tea:
Concubine Oolong tea and Dong Ding Oolong tea are two lightly roasted, lightly oxidized teas. These teas offer darker liquor than the lightly oxidized and unroasted teas, and have a complex, rich and robust flavor profile.
Highly Oxidized, Dark Roast Oolong tea:
Charcoal roasted Oolong tea and Tie Guan Yin Oolong teas are highly oxidized and heavily roasted Oolong teas. They offer the darkest liquor on the spectrum. They have a strong, toasted and nutty flavor profile. As the Oolongs become more oxidized and heavily roasted, their fresh, floral flavor profile changes to more nutty and fruity flavor profiles.
Highly Oxidized, Mid to Light Roast Oolong tea:
The Red Jade Black tea, Hong Shui Oolong tea, and the Small Leaf Black tea are all highly oxidized teas, almost like black teas in appearance. Small Leaf Black tea is unroasted, while Red Jade Black Oolong tea is lightly roasted. These heavily roasted, highly oxidized dark Oolongs are close to black tea, but they are heavily perfumed, richly flavored and have a taste almost like dried fruits.
Key characteristics of oolong tea include:
- Oxidation Level: Oolong tea typically undergoes an oxidation level ranging from 10% to 70%, which places it between green tea (unoxidized) and black tea (fully oxidized). The degree of oxidation significantly influences the tea's flavor, color, and aroma.
- Flavor Profile: Oolong teas can have a wide range of flavors, from floral and fruity to woody and toasty, depending on the specific variety and processing techniques. The flavor can be smooth and sweet with a lingering aftertaste.
- Aroma: Oolong teas are known for their complex and captivating aromas. The partially oxidized leaves contribute to a rich and fragrant cup with notes that may include floral, fruity, or earthy undertones.
- Appearance: The appearance of oolong tea leaves can vary widely. They may be tightly curled, open and twisted, or rolled into ball-like shapes. The color of the leaves can range from green to dark brown, depending on the oxidation level.
- Regions: Oolong tea is produced in several regions, with notable varieties coming from China (such as Fujian and Guangdong provinces) and Taiwan, and Nepal. Each region imparts its unique characteristics to the tea, influenced by factors like climate, altitude, and soil.
- Caffeine Content: Oolong tea contains caffeine, but the levels are generally lower than those found in black tea. The caffeine content can vary depending on the specific type of oolong and how it is brewed.
- Health Benefits: Like other types of tea, oolong tea is often associated with potential health benefits. It contains antioxidants, and some studies suggest that regular consumption may help improve metabolism, support weight management, and contribute to overall well-being.
Popular varieties of oolong tea include Tie Guan Yin, Da Hong Pao, and Dong Ding, each with its own unique flavor profile and characteristics. Oolong tea is often enjoyed in multiple infusions, revealing different layers of flavor with each steeping.
How to Brew Organic Oolong Tea:
How you brew your perfect cup of organic Oolong tea depends on whether you’re brewing a lighter Oolong, closer to green teas, or whether you’re brewing a darker Oolong tea.
It is best to brew a cup of light Oolong tea with water that is around 160 F. Allow your kettle of boiling water to cool for five to seven minutes before pouring the water over 2 grams of dry Oolong leaves, to make one pot of fresh organic Oolong tea. Allow the light tea leaves to steep for around 3 minutes before removing the strainer from your tea pot. But don’t throw your tea leaves away! You can re-steep your tea leaves multiple times, steeping them for an extra minute each time. Your liquor should be light, and the tea should taste fresh, green and floral.
Darker Organic Oolong teas can be prepared with water at higher temperatures of 185 - 206 F. Using 2 grams of dry leaves for a pot of tea, pour your boiling water over the dry leaves and allow the leaves to steep for up to 5 minutes before removing the strainer with your wet leaves from your tea pot. Your liquor should be amber, or darker depending on the oxidation level and roast of the tea leaves, and the taste should be rich and fruity.
Organic Oolong teas, especially leaves that are tightly rolled, should be resteeped multiple times. The more the leaves unfurl and ‘wake up’, the richer and more complex the flavors will become. In some cases, the 4th or even the 5th steep of Oolong teas offer the most flavorful cup of tea. A good rule of thumb for brewing Oolongs is to increase the temperature of your water by a degree after each steep, and allow the leaves to steep for a minute longer.
How Much Caffeine is there in Organic Oolong Tea?
All Oolong teas are caffeinated. Depending on how oxidized the Oolong is, and how roasted the tea leaves are, your cup of Oolong will make you feel more or less caffeinated. In general, lighter Oolongs will make you feel less caffeinated than darker, roasted Oolongs. This is because darker Oolongs are generally steeped in higher temperatures of water, and are steeped for longer periods, allowing the leaves to release more caffeine into your cup of tea. Darker Oolongs also have a higher ratio of caffeine to other compounds than lighter Oolongs, which means that the caffeine from darker, roasted Oolongs will have a stronger effect on your body.
A cup of organic Oolong tea has almost a third less caffeine than a cup of coffee. Multiple steeps of Oolong tea, which we know gives you better and better flavors, also reduced the amount of caffeine in each brew.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Oolong Milk Tea?
Milk Oolong Tea is a special Taiwanese Oolong known for its creamy, sweet and milky flavor. This Oolong tea is crafted from a specific cultivar in Taiwan called the Jin Xuan cultivar.
Milk Oolong is typically lightly oxidized and lightly roasted. It has a milky, pale liquor, a creamy and delicate flavor profile and aroma like white chocolate.
What is Peach Oolong Tea?
The popular varieties of Peach Oolong tea are not crafted from specific cultivars like Milk Oolong, which has a unique milky flavor without any additives. Peach Oolong teas usually are a blend of dark, fruity oolong with dried peach and natural flavors. They have a sweet, fruity and woodsy flavor.
Does Oolong Tea Help with Weight Loss?
Though Oolong teas are sometimes also referred to as Slim Tea or Slimming Teas, Oolong teas don’t directly cause weight loss. However, Oolong teas, like most teas, have a variety of antioxidant compounds like polyphenols and catechins, which can aid in weight loss when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
What are the benefits of drinking Organic Oolong Tea?
Organic Oolong teas offer a wealth of antioxidants, bioactives and bioactive compounds, like most teas. What is particularly special about Organic Oolong tea is that they offer the freshest bioactive compounds which have very beneficial, anti-inflammatory and reparative action on your body, without any of the harmful chemicals and pesticides that coat the leaves of non-organic teas.
Organic Oolong teas are said to aid in improving focus, supplementing healthy weight loss, and aiding in skin, bone and teeth health.
Where can I buy Oolong Tea?
You can choose from a variety of Oolong Teas from around the world online or in your local grocery store. If you want to try some premium, organic Oolong teas from the Himlayas, you can visit our store.
Is Oolong Tea Safe for Pregnant Women?
While limited amounts of Oolong tea can be safe for pregnant women, Oolong tea does contain caffeine. Pregnant women are advised to stick to minimal amounts of Oolong tea while their baby is developing.
Are there any side-effects of Oolong Teas?
Oolong teas have been a part of the tea tradition for centuries, and some lovers of tea consume upto 10 cups of organic Oolong tea a day with little to no side effects. However, since Oolong teas do contain caffeine, people who are sensitive to caffeine should stick to around two to three cups of tea a day. High levels of caffeine can spike anxiety, stress and stomach issues. It is also believed that a high consumption of polyphenols available in tea can inhibit iron absorption, so it is best to have your cup of tea two to three hours before or after your meals.
Is Oolong Tea safe to drink on an empty stomach?
While drinking Organic Oolong tea on an empty stomach is not hazardous to your health, the caffeine in the tea might affect you more than if you had consumed a cup of Oolong after a meal. Drinking caffeinated beverages on an empty stomach is not recommended, especially for women, as it can spike stress hormones, suppress the appetite, and cause damage to women’s hormone cycle. It is best to have your first cup of Organic Oolong tea with your breakfast, or after breakfast.