How to Brew: Oolong

What is Oolong?

gongfucha ceremony using a yixing pot pouring oolong into small cups

Oolong is a semi-oxidized family of teas that can range in oxidation from 10% - 70%. This category of teas spans a wide range of flavors, aromas, and hues, and is often thought of as the bridge between green and black teas.

Oolongs tend to have a less pronounced tannin, making them less astringent than either green or black teas, due to their only partial oxidation. The lighter oxidized oolongs (below ~45% oxidation) are often referred to as green oolongs and have flavor profiles and liquor colors similar to green teas. Lightly oxidized oolongs are delicate in character and usually have flavors and aromas of white flowers, fruits, and greens. Black oolongs, or dark oolongs (greater than 50% oxidation), resemble black teas in color and flavor profiles. You may notice flavors of dried fruit, spice, malt, or minerals in your dark oolongs.

How to Brew Oolong

When it comes time to brew your tea, you have a few main variables to play with: volume (of tea and water), temperature, and time. At our tea bar, we generally use standard ratios to ensure that every cup of tea we serve meets our standards and is reliably delicious from one day to the next. But not everyone's palate is the same, and we recommend playing with the brewing steps below to create your own perfect cup of tea!

Western-Style Brewing - 8 ounces or more of water

Western-style brewing is what most of us in America associate with tea. We think of china tea pots and delicate porcelain cups and a tea to water ratio that uses less tea, more water, and more time. 

To brew oolong in the western-style, you will need:

  • Brewing vessel. A mug and a basket infuser will work perfectly, but we do recommend a larger infuser like our 400ml Glass Infuser or Kinto One Touch Teapot for oolongs. This is because oolongs are a large leaf tea, and even though the rolled oolongs appear small when you put them in your pot, during steeping they will unfurl to large, beautiful, whole leaves that take up a lot of room and water!
  • Kitchen scale or teaspoon
  • 195° F water
  • A discard bowl or sink nearby
  • Large mug or cups for sharing!

Steps for Brewing Loose Leaf Oolong (16 ounces of water)

  1. Choose your brewing vessel and make note how much water it holds. 
  2. Measure 5 grams of loose leaf tea per 16 ounces of water into your brewing vessel. (If you do not have a kitchen scale, 5 grams is generally 1-2 teaspoons of tea, depending on how voluminous your dry, loose leaves are. Tightly rolled teas like Shan Lin Xi will be a scant teaspoon, while more voluminous teas like Da Hong Pao will be 1-2 teaspoons.)
  3. Use 195° water* to rinse your oolong leaves by pouring enough water over the leaves to cover fully, swirling your teapot or mug gently a few times, and then pouring out the rinse water. Rinsing your leaves is very important when brewing oolong teas, as it helps the leaves to open up more quickly and reach their fullest expression when they brew. 
  4. Fill your pot or mug with 195° F water and brew for 3 minutes. 
  5. Remove your leaves or pour off your tea into a mug or sharing pitcher. Make sure to get all of the water off the leaves, as oolongs are particularly excellent teas for re-steeping later!
  6. Share and enjoy!
  7. Re-steep your leaves 5-6 times at increasing time intervals using the 195° water.
*A brief note on water temperature: We do not recommend boiling water for brewing oolongs, especially lightly oxidized oolongs. If you have a variable temperature electric kettle or a kettle with a thermometer you can use these to heat water to 195°. Otherwise, you can boil your water and let it sit for about 1-2 minutes to approximate 195°. You can also use a candy thermometer in your mug and add cold water to the boiled water until you reach the desired temperature. 

    The Gong Fu Cha Ceremony & Traditional Brewing Methods

    1. Prepare for your ceremony with a gaiwan or yixing teapot, sharing pitcher, cups, and a tea boat or bowl for discarding water. 
    2. Preheat your gaiwan with 195° F water, then pour that warming water into the pitcher, and from there into the cups.
    3. Discard the warming water into your teaboat or discard bowl. 
    4. Add leaves to fill your gaiwan by 1/3.
    5. Rinse your leaves following the same methodical process you used to warm the teaware: pour 195° F water over your tea leaves. Close the gaiwan and, swirling gently, pour off the rinse water into your pitcher, from the pitcher to the cups, and from the cups into the tea boat or your discard bowl. 
    6. Start your first steep with 195° F water and steep from 30-45 seconds, depending on your oolong's level of oxidation. Lightly oxidized oolongs will steep for less time, while highly oxidized oolongs will steep for more time. 
    7. Once the tea is steeped, pour the tea from the gaiwan into the sharing pitcher, making sure to pour all the water off your leaves. Then pour the tea from the pitcher into the cups.
    8. Share your tea and enjoy!
    9. Resteep your leaves 8-12 times. For resteeps in the gaiwan, you will resteep your leaves for less time than the initial steep, as you are using a small ratio of water to leaves. We recommend trying a 25 second resteep. 

    Happy Steeping!

    Green button with Saratoga Tea & Honey Bee Reading: Discover Oolong

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