What’s So Special About Oolong Tea?
Even though oolongs are one of my favorite teas to order or serve at afternoon tea, I needed to put on my research hat to write this post. Read on to learn about what makes this tea unique, the Chinese Gongfu brewing method, and how you can enter our giveaway for Zi Chun’s GABA Gold Oolong Tea.
What is Oolong Tea?
“Oolong” (sounds like “too long”), is the anglicized version of the original “Wulong” which is Chinese for “black dragon,” a nod to the dark, twisting tea leaves that result from oolong production. Wulong is also a reference to the Wu Yi Mountains, where oolong tea was first produced in China’s northern Fujian province. Over time, oolong production spread into southern Chinese provinces and over to Taiwan. Oolong is special because it is the most complicated of the tea varieties (black, green, white, etc.) to create.
What Makes A Tea an Oolong Tea
Remember it is the processing method which differentiates the camellia sinensis tea types: green, white, yellow, oolong, black, pu-erh. For oolong teas, growers harvest larger tea leaves, which will hold up through multi-step processing, and will also be more richly aromatic than younger leaves. Picked tea leaves are set out in the sun to wither until they lose enough moisture to become pliable, then moved to bamboo trays indoors.
The Vastly Different Flavors of Oolong Teas
Each oolong tea maker chooses how much oxidation, rolling, drying and roasting their tea leaves will undergo, which creates a wide range of colors, flavors and appearance amongst oolong teas.
“Oxidation” — the leaf’s reaction to oxygen in the air — begins the moment tea leaves are picked and continues as they wither, or can be accelerated by tumbling the leaves. To visualize this, think of green tea and black tea as the two extremes. Green teas are exposed to heat early after picking to stop the oxidation process, contrary to black teas, which are allowed to fully oxidize. Oolong teas’ oxidation can be anywhere between those two extremes, resulting in oolongs that are closer to a green tea in appearance and flavor, or to a black tea.
To halt the oxidation of the tea leaves, they are quickly pan-fried or tumbled in high heat. Next they are shaped, either into the thin, rolled strips of Dan Cong and Wu Yi oolong tea makers, or the trademark ball form of Anxi and Taiwanese oolong tea makers. During this phase, the tea maker will determine how many cycles of rolling and drying (over low heat to remove a chosen amount of moisture) the tea will undergo. As an optional finishing stage, oolong leaves may be roasted to produce a toasted flavor.
Sampling GABA Gold Oolong Tea – Hot and Iced
Zi Chun Teas sent us their 3.5 ounce GABA Gold Oolong tea to review, and would like to gift this tea to one lucky Destination Tea reader (see below for how to enter the giveaway). This tea company works with small, family-owned organic tea gardens that operate under ethical standards and practice fair trade conditions. Yes!
Zi Chun’s GABA Gold Oolong tea is grown and harvested on an organic tea garden in Nantou County, Central Taiwan. They recommend trying it hot or iced, so I prepared it both ways.
How to Brew Oolong Tea
With oolong tea, the brewing methods vary as widely as the teas themselves. While Western methods tend to infuse tea leaves once and serve, the traditional Chinese Gongfu method (shown in the video below), includes multiple infusions of the tea leaves, using a greater tea-to-water ratio. In Gongfu tea preparation, the first “quick rinse” of the leaves is actually discarded. If you’re like me, and don’t like the idea of wasting that first infusion, remember re-steeped high quality tea leaves — unlike artificially flavored teas — will happily render flavorful liquors over and over.
Hot Oolong Tea Preparation – Gongfu Style
Because oolong teas are traditionally Chinese, I pulled out my aroma cup set for this tasting. This set, which includes a narrow aroma cup, a tasting cup and matching tray, was a gift from Kelly MacVean, when she hosted us at The Confection Cottage in Aiken, SC [thank you Kelly!]. Also known as a “tea pair,” this teaware is a part of a Chinese Gongfu tea ceremony, which focuses on how the tea affects your body, mind and spirit as you savor it. While at first it may seem like you won’t be drinking much tea this way, after the multiple infusions of Gongfu tea preparation, you typically drink many cups by the end.
Step One: Heat the vessels
I first boiled water and poured it into my tasting cup, aroma cup and teapot. This is done to prevent the vessels from cooling the water temperature during steeping and serving. Let rest for a couple minutes, then discard.
Step Two: Measure the tea and infuse
The GABA Gold Oolong Tea package recommends infusing 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup in “close to boiling” water, for 2.5 to 3 minutes for the first infusion and less time for the 2nd and 3rd infusions. I set my electric kettle to 200°F, and steeped 4 teaspoons of the tea in 4 cups of water for a little over 2 minutes. Note that many tea guides suggest steeping oolongs for no more than 1 minute. You can experiment to create the brew you prefer.
I poured the tea into my aroma cup first, to permeate it with the fragrance and natural oils of the tea.
Step Three: Transfer tea to your sipping cup and enjoy!
I covered my aroma cup with the tasting cup to seal in the fragrance for a minute, then holding them together tightly, flipped over. After gently picking up the aroma cup, I had a neat cup of tea ready to taste, and the scent of the tea remains in the aroma cup to enhance the experience. You can roll the aroma cup between your hands to warm and release the tea’s notes, in turns inhaling the aroma cup’s scents, and sipping your tea.
The aroma cup gave off a soft perfume with floral notes, complementing my garden teatime. My first sip was delicately flavored and refreshing, with just a hint of a nutty aftertaste. Onto the chilled version!
Iced Oolong Tea Preparation
This was a first. Typically, I choose flavored black teas for my iced teas. I tend to think of oolongs as more of a healthful, tea connoisseur’s drink, rather than a fun, chilled treat. However, I wanted to give the iced preparation a try, both to see how this tea stood up to multiple infusions, and to check out the packaging suggestion that it would be delicious iced.
Step One: Brew double-strength tea
I reused the leaves (4 teaspoons) from my first, hot oolong infusion, this time steeping them in 2 cups of water, doubling the tea-to-water ratio. Brewing a tea concentrate like this is the fast method of creating an iced tea, one that is not diluted. I steeped it for less than 3 minutes.
Step Two: Decant over ice and enjoy!
I filled my glass halfway with ice, and used a small hand strainer to filter any tea leaves, pouring the hot tea over the ice. After a moment and a gentle swirl, my iced tea is ready!
So How Was the GABA Gold Oolong Tea?
Honey forward! If you love sweetening your tea with honey, but are looking to cut down on sugar in your life, Zi Chun’s GABA Gold Oolong Tea is your answer. It was very hard for my brain to accept that there wasn’t actually any honey in the ingredients list (yes, I did have to check).
There’s a light, sweet fragrance that recalls flower nectar. Our teen reviewer’s first sip elicited a, “Yummy!” As you can see in the pictures, this tea is certainly deserving of its name, creating a brightly golden hued liquor. I especially appreciate that this tea kept its flavor after multiple infusions, signaling a high quality tea.
WIN! Zi Chun Teas’ GABA Gold Oolong Tea, 3.5 oz.
Zi Chun Teas will ship one lucky Destination Tea reader this 3.5 ounce GABA Gold Oolong Tea, which comes in a pretty canister that closes snugly to preserve your tea. How to enter:
- Follow @destination_tea and @zichunteas and like this post on Instagram.
[Not on Insta? Comment on this post below.]
- Earn an extra entry by tagging a friend who’d love to try GABA Gold Oolong Tea.
- Enter by June 30th.
- Open to U.S. residents only.
Winners will be selected at random and announced on July 3rd!
[Note: This is a sponsored blog post.]