How to Make Oolong Tea Properly
See step-by-step instructions with photos on how to make oolong tea the proper way using a clay teapot. You’ll be surprised at how good oolong tea can taste using this traditional method.
What is Oolong Tea?
Oolong tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, making it a true tea. What else is a true tea? Black tea, green tea, white tea, and puerh tea. Not a true tea? All herbal teas like hibiscus and chamomile.
Freshly picked tea leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant are processed to create the different types of tea. The most processed is black tea and the least processed is white tea.
Processing are the steps involved in making tea that includes withering, oxidation, shaping and drying tea leaves.
Oolong falls in between black and green tea in how processed it is.
Brewing Oolong Tea Properly
To make oolong tea properly, I don’t use a mug with an infuser or brew it in a ceramic teapot. I use a small clay teapot, which is traditionally used to brew oolong, black, and puerh teas.
Another way to brew oolong tea properly is to use a gaiwan, a traditional Chinese tea brewing bowl with a lid. But, I find the clay teapot much easier to use so it’s always what I reach for when making oolong tea.
There are a few reasons I use the clay teapot:
- Clay teapots retain heat well so they keep the water hot.
- The teapot is porous, so, over time, it’ll soak in the flavor of the tea, which is quite lovely.
- It’s easy to brew multiple steepings of the same oolong tea leaves.
- The joy of drinking tea is in the ritual and I love the relaxing process of brewing oolong with this method.
When I was going through the Tea Sommelier course, the most fun part was learning how to brew all teas properly. There are multiple steps involved but once you get the process down, you can make tea like you’ve never tasted before.
To truly taste oolong properly, you don’t add any milk or sugar. Just oolong tea and hot water. That’s it.
This clay teapot method is how a tea tasting is done and the best way for anyone who wants to learn how to get into tea. It’s how it all started for me!
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Oolong Tea Brewing Essential Tools
STEP 1: Measure your tea using a scale.
For proper oolong tea tasting and brewing, you should use only loose tea. Tea in tea bags just aren’t good enough quality and you won’t get the full experience and flavors.
When brewing oolong tea in a clay teapot, weighing tea is essential. This means no more measuring with teaspoons.
Weighing tea is important for proper tea brewing since you will get the exact amount of tea you need.
Some teas are long and twisty while others are rolled into tight little balls. You would get a completely different amount of tea using a teaspoon whereas using a scale gives you an accurate amount regardless of the shape of the tea.
I’m going with 6 grams of oolong tea for one small clay teapot which holds one cup of water.
STEP 2: Warm up the teapot, pitcher, and cups.
Boil water in an electric kettle and pour some hot water into the teapot, pitcher, and cups. You just want enough hot water to fill halfway, then gently swirl the hot water around a bit.
I like to boil a liter of water at a time so I have enough to warm up the teaware and have enough for the rinse and the first steep.
Oolong teas are brewed at 185°F – 212°F so check the tea packaging to see what they recommend for the oolong tea you have.
After a few seconds, you can dump the water out from the teapot, tea cups, and pitcher into a large bowl.
The large bowl is there so you don’t have to make multiple trips to the sink to throw out the water.
When pouring from the teapot, ALWAYS put one finger on the lid. Not doing so can cause tea to spill out and make a mess. But, be careful not to put your finger over the hole at the top of the teapot since that’ll stop the airflow and the tea will stop pouring.
STEP 3: Put oolong tea leaves in teapot.
Put the weighed oolong tea into the warmed teapot.
STEP 4: Fill teapot with hot water.
I’ve set the electric kettle to 195°F and that’s the water temperature I’ll be steeping the tea.
The teapot I’m using holds 8 oz. (a cup) of water. Fill the water all the way up to the top of the teapot.
A tray is used so that you don’t have to worry about any water spillage.
STEP 5: Rinse tea.
We’re not ready to drink the tea just yet. We’re going to do a rinse with hot water for a few seconds.
I keep the hot water in the teapot for about 10 – 15 seconds and then pour it out into the large bowl. This jump starts the steeping process as the leaves will start to unfurl.
STEP 6: First steep.
Refill the teapot all the way with hot water. This time, we’re steeping the tea for a minute. I use the timer on my phone to keep count.
This is the tea we’ll finally get to drink.
STEP 7: Pour tea into a pitcher with a strainer.
I use a tea strainer and put that into what’s called a “sharing pitcher.” Pour the tea from the teapot into the pitcher.
Make sure you get every last drop out from the teapot so that there’s no water left in the teapot. Hot water left lingering in the teapot keeps the tea steeping and will make your tea taste bitter.
Take out the strainer from the pitcher.
Step 8: Pour tea from the sharing pitcher into cups.
With this brewing process, you’ll notice the cups are fairly small. You can usually get 2 – 3 sips from each cup.
Once you’ve finished the cup, pour again from the pitcher until the pitcher is empty.
Step 9: Second steep.
Fill up the teapot once more and steep the tea, but this time, for 1 minute and 30 seconds. I’m extending the brew time for each additional steep.
Step 10: Third steep.
With this brewing method, I steep tea at least 3 times. Each steep releases different subtle flavors so the first steep is never the same as the third.
For the third steep, I brew the oolong tea for at least 2 minutes.
If you do a fourth and a fifth, which is not out of the ordinary, I extend the time by adding another 30 seconds to 1 minute.
With each steep, if you take out a tea leaf, you’ll see that the leaves have started to unroll and you’ll see the actual tea leaf.
Oolong Tea Brewing Tips
- Always use good quality loose oolong tea.
- Clay teapots are used mostly for oolong and puerh teas.
- Oolong teas are a great way to get into tea. A good one to start with is ‘Big Red Robe’ or ‘Iron Goddess.’