Oolong tea (also written Wulong) is a Chinese tea that has been partially oxidized, making it darker than a green tea, but lighter than a black tea. Different oolong teas undergo varying levels of oxidation between 8% and 85%.
This results in teas with unique flavor profiles. Some oolong teas are sweet and fruity with honeyed aromas, while others are green and fresh and smell of a bouquet, while yet others are thick and woody with a roasted aroma.
How to Prepare Oolong Tea
While there are some variations in the brewing methods for individual varieties, those variations are nowhere near as large as they are for green tea. I’ll give general brewing instructions here; for detailed instructions on each variety, please refer to the pages for individual teas listed below.
In general, you’ll want to use about 2 teaspoons of tea per 8 oz. (236 ml) of water. The water temperature should be between 90 and 95ºC (194-205ºF) and the steeping time should range from 2 to 3 minutes.
The amounts and times given are somewhat conservative; use them as a rough guide. If you find the resulting tea too weak, add more tea leaves or try increasing the steeping time. Increasing the water temperature will result in a more astringent tea.
These teas are best brewed in a smaller vessel made from ceramic or clay. The ideal ceramic vessel is a traditional gaiwan.
The nice thing about the gaiwan is that it can easily be used to brew most Chinese teas, be they oolong, green, white or black.
While some people like the gaiwan, most prefer the yixing:
These traditional Chinese teapots made from purple clay come in a large variety of shapes and sizes.
For information on which vessel works best with individual teas and detailed instructions on using those vessels, please see the pages for the individual teas listed below.
Oolong Tea Varieties
While you’ll find quite a few varieties from a number of countries, this site will focus only on the most famous and highest quality teas, which come from China and Taiwan.
Chinese Oolong Teas
Bid Red Robe Tea: a “China Famous Tea” and one of “The Four Great Bushes”; the most expensive tea ever sold on the world market; sweet aroma with a woodsy character, fruity muscatel tones and no bitterness
Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess) Tea: lightly oxidized tea that is very complicated to produce; fruity taste with a berry fragrance
Shui Xian Tea: very dark tea that brews to a dark brown color and has a peachy-honey taste with a slight mineral-rock flavor; cheaper varieties are commonly found in Chinese restaurants.
Dancong Tea: known for its ability to imitate the flavors and aromas of various fruits and flowers; difficult to brew correctly and can easily become bitter
Taiwanese Oolong Teas
Pouchong Tea: the lightest and most floral variety; rich, mild taste with a floral and melon aroma
Ali Shan Tea: grown high in the mountains; slightly sweet, yet complex flavor with hint of fruits and flowers; pale yellow color and light orchid aroma