Making up only 2% of global tea consumption, Oolong includes the rarest and most expensive tea cultivar in the world. This multiple-steep Oolong unlocks a dizzying world of aromas, flavors, and tastes with each steep.
Whether you’ve tried Oolong once and want to try making your own or you’re simply curious, a brew of sensual, ever-changing Oolong tea is well worth the effort. Join us as we walk you through the steps.
What Is Oolong Tea?
Oolong tea is a loose-leaf tea made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. This is the same plant that gives us black tea, green tea, and all teas that are true teas and not herbal teas.
Originally called Wu Long, Oolong means black dragon, because of the dark color and twisted shape of its leaves.
Types of Oolong Tea
There are numerous varieties of Oolong tea, each with its own oxidation levels, taste nuances, and price. You can buy Oolong in the form of long twists of leaves, curled-up leaves, or tightly balled leaves.
Depending on the type, oxidization, and roasting, Oolong’s taste and flavor can range from brightly floral to buttery and nutty, all the way to dark and harsh, or anywhere in between.
Also, what a newcomer may find too astringent to stomach can be enjoyable to an Oolong connoisseur, who has built up a tolerance for bitterness over the years.
Because of all these differences, there’s no one-size-fits-all measurement or recipe. Stay attuned to your taste buds as you play around with flavors, measurements, brewing temperatures and times until you find the right combination for you.
What Teapot Do I Need?
Using the original Chinese teapots is part of immersing yourself in the Oolong experience or gongfu brewing. Still, you can make an excellent cup of Oolong using regular Western-style kitchenware.
Porcelain, for instance, is affordable and allows the true Oolong flavors to shine through, but here’s a quick look at a couple of fancy Chinese Oolong teaware and a few modern ones.
Yixing teapots are also known as zisha su, or purple sand. They’re clay pots that can maintain high temperatures of water for a long time. This is ideal for Oolong, which fares better in high temperatures.
A gaiwan is a lidded bowl with no handle. After placing Oolong leaves inside and filling the gaiwan with water, you slide the lid back just enough to pour. Because the lid is tipped into the bowl, it holds back the leaves and allows you to control the amount of tea poured out.
Tall Glass with Brew Basket
You can also make Oolong in one single step in a tall glass with a brew basket, a tea press, or even a French press. After enjoying the tea in your glass, you just refill it with water.
A see-through Pyrex glass lets you watch mesmerizing swirls of color in the water while your Oolong brews.
Water will drastically affect the taste of your tea. Make sure you use clean, soft, filtered water that hasn’t been previously boiled.
Ideally, water that tastes good at room temperature is a good choice.
What You’ll Need To Make Oolong Tea
- 0.2 oz of Oolong tea leaves
- A tray or towel
- A kettle for heating water
- A spoon
- A tea scale (optional)
- An 8-oz teapot or gaiwan
- Drinking cups
- A large bowl (optional)
- A tea strainer (optional)
Step 1: Measure Your Tea
Measure out 0.2 ounces of tea leaves, but don’t put it in the teapot just yet. This is a high tea-to-water ratio, usually recommended for Oolong. Although, again, it boils down to type, oxidization, and personal preference.
Ideally, you’ll measure your leaves with a tea scale rather than by spoonfuls. Because some Oolong leaves are twisty and long while others come in tightly balled up, weight is more precise than volume. With time and experience, you’ll be able to eyeball the right amount of leaves, but a tea scale is useful when you’re starting out.
Keep in mind that none of this is life or death. Don’t be afraid to taste and adjust if you don’t have a scale.
Step 2: Arrange Your Teaware on Your Tray or Towel
The tray or towel is there so you don’t have to worry about water spillage. Unless you’re working directly at your sink, place your teapot, pitcher (if you’re using one), and drinking cups on your tray.
Step 3: Heat the Water
If you have an electric kettle with heat presets, heat the water up to 195℉, although some Oolong types brew best in higher temperatures.
If you can’t determine the temperature of the water, boil the water then wait for about a minute. You want to avoid boiling-hot water because it burns those beautiful tea leaves.
If you’re using a see-through kettle, it’s ideal to heat up the water just shy of boiling.
Step 4: Warm up the Teaware
Splash some of the heated water into your drinking cups, pitcher, and teapot. Swirl the water in your teaware and leave it for a few seconds then dump it out in the large bowl.
You can also skip the large bowl and throw the water in the sink directly, but this will mean multiple trips to the sink.
Step 5: Place Your Oolong Leaves in the Teapot
Now that you’ve warmed up your teapot or gaiwan, put your leaves in.
Step 6: Add Water to the Teapot
Fill your teapot with water and let it sit for about 15 seconds. You’re not going to drink this. This is the water used to rinse your tea leaves.
Step 7: Rinse Your Tea Leaves
This isn’t rinsing in the sense of running your leaves under the tap. In Oolong terms, rinsing means pouring out the water in your teapot into the large bowl.
Step 8: The First Steep
Refill your teapot with water from the kettle. This is the first steep. Again, different Oolong types are best with different steep times. Keep trying until you find what works for you.
On average, steep the leaves for one minute, although some people start with 15 seconds and others go all the way up to three minutes. Any shorter gives you colored water with practically zero flavor. Any longer gives you a brew too bitter to be palatable, depending on your personal preference.
Step 9: Pour the Tea Into Your Drinking Cups or Pitcher
You can pour your tea either directly into the cups or into a strainer placed atop your sharing pitcher and then into the cups. Make sure to pour out all the tea to avoid oversteeping the leaves, which will make them exceptionally bitter.
Step 10: The Second Steep
Refill the teapot. This time steep the leaves for one minute and a half. You should leave your leaves in longer with each successive steep. A good rule of thumb is to add 15 seconds to one minute every time.
Repeat the pouring process. You’ll notice a subtle difference in taste this time.
You can keep refilling your teapot all the way for even a fifth steep. With each steep, your leaves release more nuances in aroma, flavor, and taste.