If you’ve been following along, we’ve been learning about the production process of all the different kinds of tea. Our previous two posts discussed Green tea and Black tea, but for this post we are turning our attention to Oolong. I will be referring to those previous posts, so you may wish to read those before reading further.
Oolong teas are partially oxidized, occupying a curious position between Green and Black. If you recall from the black tea article, oxidation occurs when the enzymes in the tea leaves react with oxygen and form flavonoids. This is the same process that causes an apple slice to turn brown. The amount of oxidation and the method used to achieve it are the defining features of this tea. For this reason, the oxidation process is highly controlled.
The processing of Oolong starts the same as Green and Black teas. The leaves are picked and then withered, either by the sun or warm air. Once the leaves are soft and flexible, the leaves destined to become Oolong must be bruised to release those enzymes and begin the oxidation process. While this can be done with similar rolling techniques to Black tea, often a gentler method is utilized. One common technique is to shake the leaves in bamboo baskets, which slightly bruises the leaves. After bruising the leaves, they are left to oxidize for a specific amount of time. Then the leaves may be shaken and bruised again. The exact number times the leaves are shaken and left to oxidize varies depending on the Oolong as well as the tea producer.
When the desired levels of oxidation have been reached, the leaves are fixed. You may remember from our Green tea article that fixing tea leaves destroys the oxidizing enzymes. Green tea is fixed after the leaves have been withered to preserve the green color. There are a variety of ways to fix tea leaves, but most are pan seared or dried over a charcoal stove. After the leaves have been fixed, they are rolled and shaped into pearls and twists before the final drying. At last, the tea is ready to be packaged and sold.
Oolongs are some of my favorite teas. While their flavor can range from floral to fruity, it’s the creamy Oolongs that stand out the most. For the pure oolong experience, I recommend our standard Oolong. It’s creaminess is even more pronounced when served with milk. Another great example of this is our China Mist tea. This tea combines our standard Oolong with our Jasmine Green tea and a touch of almond flavoring. The result is one of the smoothest teas I’ve come across; it’s liquid velvet. Both teas are listed as Black teas on our website and in our catalog.