How to Brew Oolong Tea

Jan 10, 2020
Oolong teas are the easiest, and the most difficult teas to brew. To brew some types of oolongs you will need a lot of patience and understanding, while for the others you can simply use only a mug and hot water. Read how to brew different oolong teas to get the best flavor.

How long to steep oolong tea

Oolong tea is one of the six main tea types. It can be more or less oxidized, making it closer to green or black tea. That’s why steeping times and water temperatures can be very different. You can steep oolong tea for only a few seconds, or even more than 5 minutes, and still get the best possible flavor. The shortest steep time for oolong tea is 10 seconds, while the recommended longest steep time is up to 8 minutes. While you can use a short steep technique with almost any oolong, western-style mug brewing isn’t suitable for all of themfor example, Dan Cong tea. Read more about flavors of different oolongs here.

Best teaware for brewing oolong tea

You can brew tea using almost any teapot strainer or infuser, but if you really want to enjoy the best flavor of the tea, avoid small infusers or big teapots. The best solution is to buy a proper gong fu tea set for brewing tea. As most types of oolongs come from China and Taiwan, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the best teaware will the Chinese one. To extract all flavor notes from oolong tea, leaf/water ratio is important and the eastern way of brewing will always give the best flavor. Therefore, smaller teapots are a better choice. Many oolong teas are either shaped in small tight balls or formed into long wiry shapes. Small infusing balls or spoons won’t allow the leaves to fully expand. For brewing some types of tea you will need to fill the pot almost 2/3 full with leaves and small teapots make measuring very easy. With rolled oolongs, always fill the bottom with leaves, while with long wiry leaves, aim to fill at least half of the teapot.

Best teaware

  1. Infuser cup
Infuser mug is a great choice for brewing oolong tea in the office. Choose those with removable infusers, so you can use the same leaves more than once.
  1. Chinese gaiwan
Chinese gaiwan is a small cup-shaped tea vessel with a lid. It’s a must for truly experiencing all flavor nuances of oolong teas. Use about 1 gram of tea leaves for 20 ml of water (or adjusted where needed) and steep them only for a few seconds. You will be able to use oolong tea leaves for at least 5 times with this method, and sometimes even 10 before they lose all flavor.
  1. Chinese zisha teapot
Chinese purple clay teapots can sometimes be irreplaceable when extracting the best flavor from Chinese oolong tea, like Wu Yi or Dan Cong. They preserve heat, accumulate a natural tea coating over time and are easy to use. These teapots are usually very small, but enough to fill 2-3 small Chinese teacups.
  1. Glass teapot with or without an infuser
Glass teapots are great to enjoy the beauty of unfurling oolong tea leaves. Fill the teapot’s bottom with ball-shaped oolong tea leaves and add hot water.
  1. Regular Mug
A regular mug can be used for brewing ball-shaped oolong teas. In hot water, this type of oolong tea will expand and fill the cup, allowing you to drink tea without straining the leaves first. Simply pour in hot water, let it steep for a minute and drink. Add more water when finished.

Oolong tea brewing time and water/leaf ratio

The following recommendations are for making tea using a mix of western and eastern brewing technique, to get the best flavor while using any teapot or infuser mug. Adjust the amount of leaves if needed.
  • Wu Yi oolong tea including Red Robe and Qi Lan - 1 minute, 3-5 grams per cup of water, re-steep
  • Ti Kwan Yin and other Anxi oolong teas - 1 minute, 4-5 grams of leaves per cup of water, re-steep
  • High Mountain tea - 1-2 minutes for the first infusion, and use about 4-5 grams of tea leaves per cup of water, re-steep
  • White Tipped oolong and other bug-bitten oolongs - make the first infusion 2-3 minutes long, and use about 150-200 ml of water for 3 grams of tea leaves, re-steep
  • Flavored oolongs tea - 2-3 minutes for about 2-3 grams of tea leaves per cup of water
  • Other oolongs - follow the recommendations on the label or steep for a minute, then adjust the time if needed
For a western type brewing, 2 grams of leaves are usually enough. I that case, steep the tea for 2-3 minutes.

Best oolong temperature

You can brew almost all oolong teas, with nearly boiling water, but keep the steep time short. The best water temperatures if you use the amount of leaves and steeping times recommended above:
  • Wu Yi oolong tea including Red Robe and Qi Lan - 194 °F
  • Ti Kwan Yin and other Anxi oolong teas - 203 °F
  • High Mountain tea - 194°F
  • White Tipped oolong and other bug-bitten oolongs - 185 °F
  • Flavored oolongs tea - 185 °F
  • Other oolongs - follow the recommendations on the label or use water temperature of around 185 °F, then adjust the temperature if needed

Steps for brewing the best cup of oolong tea

  • Boil fresh spring water in a clean kettle
  • Preheat your mug or a teapot by pouring hot water in and out
  • Use the recommended amount of tea leaves per cup of water or more for an intense full flavor
  • Wash the leaves by pouring in water and discarding the brew after a few seconds
  • Pour more water and cover with a lid
  • Let it steep following the recommendations above
  • Pour the tea into teacups

Cold Brewing oolong tea

You can cold brew any oolong tea in the same way you would cold brew green tea. However, oolong tea leaves will need more time to release the flavor. Letting them steep for at least 6 hours or overnight will give the best flavor.
  1. Choose a big glass teapot or a pitcher.
  2. Add 2 spoons of tea leaves.
  3. Add lukewarm or cold water.
  4. Cover with a lid to protect from odors.
  5. Put in a fridge for at least 6 hours.
  6. Use within 24 hours.

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