Chinese Oolong Tea Guide

Mar 16, 2021
When talking about oolong tea, nothing can beat flavors, shapes and colors or Chinese oolong teas. Today, some truly exceptional oolong teas are produced in many countries around the world, but Chinese oolongs still remain a special and probably the most flavorful category of tea.

What is Chinese oolong tea?

Chinese oolong tea is a semi-oxidized type of tea made from Camellia sinensis plant. Simplified, oolong tea is somewhere between green and black tea. However, the production of oolong tea often includes more steps than the production of green or black tea, sometimes even over 20. It’s the most versatile category of tea, both with flavor, color and shape. Interestingly, oolong tea is the only type of tea that doesn’t include color in its name. White tea is often very light and may even look like a slightly colored water – such as very high quality silver needle, yellow tea is usually yellow-green to yellow-brown, green tea color ranges from yellow to green and black tea – called red tea in China - is dark red or dark orange. Fermented dark tea can be either very dark or light brown-yellow. Oolong tea can be more or less oxidized. The percentage can be anywhere from around 10% (or even less!) to over 90%. Lightly oxidized oolong is often called “green oolong”. Heavily oxidized oolong tea, often more than 95% is called oolong black tea and has a flavor very similar to black tea. They are, however, very rare. Some black teas are not fully oxidized either and may even have green-colored tea leaves. Most dark oolongs will be oxidized up to 80%. But what’s even more interesting is that oxidation level is not the only factor that will influence the color and scent of oolong tea. Other processing methods, such as roasting, baking or aging, will significantly change tea leaves too.

Tea Origins

Chinese oolong teas have a very long history of over 1000 years, but modern oolongs appeared much later. The best Chinese oolong teas are produced in two provinces – Fujian and Guangdong. Fujian is a home of the world-famous Anxi Ti Kwan Yin oolong and amazing Wuyi rock teas, while Guangdong is growing some of the most flavorful and aromatic oolong teas in the world – dan cong oolong teas.

Ti Kwan Yin tea

Ti Kwan Yin or Iron Goddess of Mercy is a very popular and extremely important oolong tea from Fujian province. It has semi-ball shaped leaves and a unique flavor. Or, to be more precise – flavors. Ti Kwan Yin tea hides many different flavors. Traditionally, it was heavily roasted, but modern green types are available too. Heavily roasted Ti Kwan Yin may have roasted and slightly metallic notes, with deep and warm body. Moder types can be more or less acidic, floral or creamy, similar to lighter green teas. Read more about Ti Kwan Yin tea here.

Wuyi rock tea

Wuyi rock oolong is grown on Wuyi mountainous range in Fujian province. It may be grown on different altitudes. Wuyi rock teas have twisted, usually medium length, plump leaves. The most famous representative, and one of the most expensive teas in the world, is Da Hong Pao or Red Robe oolong. Other popular types are Qi Lan oolong, Shui Xian oolong and Tie Luo Han oolong. Red more about Wuyi rock tea here.

Dan Cong tea

Dan Cong teas come from Guangdong province. They are the most aromatic and exquisite category of oolong tea, and the one that’s very difficult to brew. Dan Cong teas are made from tea leaves grown on old tea trees from Fenghuang mountain. Each of them will have a very unique flavor - such as honey, almond, orchid or osmanthus, and many others. Dan Cong teas are a truly exquisite category of tea and they should be brewed carefully. To experience the best flavor, brew them in small teapots, with lots of tea leaves, very hot water and steep carefully.

Tea Taste

Oxidation will influence the color, scent and flavor. Green oolong tea may have a flavor very similar to lighter and nuttier green teas. They will rarely be vegetal, and will usually have creamy, floral or cooked vegetables notes. Baked and roasted oolongs will have a stronger, either toasty and warm or stronger baked and even metallic note. Dan Cong teas will be highly aromatic. You may even think they are artificially flavored. But what’s really amazing about oolong tea flavor is that it will mostly change with each steep. Although you may brew oolong tea using a regular western-brewing technique, it’s best to re-steep tea leaves to enjoy flavor nuances of each infusion. Oolong tea will rarely be bitter, unless you over-brew it. Always be careful how long is the first infusion. If you burn the leaves during the first steep, all subsequent infusions will be bitter too.

Benefits of Drinking Oolong tea

Drinking oolong tea may provide numerous health benefits. One of the most mentioned and important benefits of drinking oolong tea may be the potential to increase fat oxidation[1] and potential aid in weight loss. Some studies suggest that oolong may help reduce body weight even without exercising[2]. It may help regulate blood sugar levels[3] and help decrease vascular inflammation[4]. Find out what are the top 15 benefits of drinking oolong tea.

Caffeine Content

Caffeine content in oolong tea will vary from type to type. However, it’s likely that a cup of oolong tea contains less caffeine than a cup of green or black tea. Caffeine content in tea depends on many factors – from tea cultivar to terroir, harvesting and processing methods, to storing conditions and brewing technique. Since oolong tea is the most versatile category of tea, you can expect different caffeine content in different teas. Roasting, aging, using more mature tea leaves and discarding the first infusion may all reduce the final caffeine content in your cup.

How to Brew

To make the most flavorful cup of oolong tea, always use fresh spring water. Bring water to a boil and preheat your teaware. Unflavored oolong teas are best brewed using multiple-steeping technique. Preheat your teapot and use at least 2-3 grams of tea per 3-4 oz of water. The first infusion should be only for opening and washing tea leaves. Discard it, don’t drink it. Keep the first regular infusion at 20-40 seconds. Re-steep multiple times and increase the time for every subsequent infusion. Alternatively, use about 2-3 grams per cup of water and steep for 2-3 minutes. Water temperature should be between 185-203 °F. Pure oolong teas taste the best without any condiments. However, feel free to add a bit of raw honey. If you want to try a truly unique drink, try making a homemade oolong milk tea. Learn more about brewing oolong tea here.

Where to Buy

Oolong tea is available online and in many specialized grocery shops or even supermarkets. If you want to enjoy the best flavor, tea shops may offer a wider range and higher quality tea.  
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Every person is different and may react to different herbs and teas differently. Never use teas or herbs to treat serious medical conditions on your own. Always seek professional medical advice before choosing home remedies.  


[1] S Zhang; Subacute Ingestion of Caffeine and Oolong Tea Increases Fat Oxidation without Affecting Energy Expenditure and Sleep Architecture: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blinded Cross-Over Trial [2] [3] [4]

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