Want to Get into Oolong Tea? Start Here.

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Want to get into oolong tea but don’t know where to begin? Get step-by-step tea tasting guide, list of the best oolong teas for beginners, and more!

Oolong tea

Oolong Tea

Oolong is a type of tea that is made from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. 

There are six types of tea: Black, oolong, green, white, puerh, and yellow. Depending on how each tea is processed (how it’s rolled, how long it’s withered or oxidized, etc.), you get a different type of tea. 

Oolong tea is semi-oxidized and sits right in between black tea and green tea in terms of how it’s processed. Black tea is more processed than oolong tea. Oolong tea is more processed than green tea. 

3 Things About Oolong Tea

  1. Oolong originated in China, like all tea.
    Oolong is originally from China but seeds were brought over to Taiwan hundreds of years ago where the tea production flourished. Now, the most famous oolongs come from both China and Taiwan. 
  2. There are a wide range of oolongs.
    There are so many different oolongs from dark to light. Some almost taste like black tea and some almost like green. Where it’s grown (climate, altitude, soil) and when the tea leaves were picked all impact the flavor and appearance.
  3. Oolongs are usually rolled into a ball or twisted.
    If you see a tea leaf tightly rolled into a ball, it’s easy to guess it’s an oolong. 

RELATED: How to Get Into Green Tea

How to Get into Oolong Tea

This is my recommended method to getting into any type of tea. It’s one I learned in my Tea Sommelier program that I found super valuable.

  1. Pick one oolong tea to drink for a week.
    Here’s the secret to getting into any tea: drink a lot of it. Drink only one oolong tea for one whole week. No other tea that entire time
  2. Make tea using a cup with an infuser.
    See my step-by-step on how to brew oolongs for tea tastings at the bottom of this post. This is the best and easiest way for beginners to learn and practice.
  3. At the end of the week, select another oolong tea to drink for the next week.
    The goal is to be able to taste the tea at a later time and recognize it. 

5 Oolong Teas All Beginners Should Try

  1. Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
    Iron Goddess is a great introduction to oolong tea. One of the most well-known oolong teas.
  2. Oriental Beauty (Dongfeng Meiren or Bai Hao)
    When I first started getting into oolong tea, this was where I started and it’s still one of my favorites.
  3. Frozen Summit (Dong Ding or Tung Ting)
    My absolute favorite oolong. I like mine when it’s dark roasted, giving it a nutty taste.
  4. Alishan (High Mountain oolong)
    There are several kinds of tea grown in the mountains of Taiwan and they’re referred to as high mountain oolongs. Alishan is one of those grown at high elevation.
  5. Bao Zhong
    A light oolong, it’s delicate and floral.

What You’ll need to Make Oolong Tea

How to Make Oolong Tea for a tea tasting

If you’re just starting to get into tea, I recommend brewing in a mug with an infuser.

Make sure the mug with infuser you’re using isn’t too big since you want to steep one cup (8 oz.) at a time. 

STEP 1 : Boil filtered water.

I like using an electric kettle with temperature setting so that I can get the exact water temperature I need. I’ve found it to be a key part of brewing tea properly. 

But, oolong is not as tricky to brew as other types of tea so you can go ahead and boil water on the stovetop. Oolong is best brewed in 185°F – 208°F water temperature.

Bring water to a boil then let it cool for a couple of minutes. 

Filtered water is best for tea.

STEP 2: Warm up mug.

Pour some hot water into the mug and swirl it around then discard the water.

STEP 3: Put 2 teaspoons of loose oolong tea into mug and add hot water.

Oolong tea comes in different shapes and sizes so it’s best to use a tea scale instead of a teaspoon. (If using a tea scale, put in 6 grams of tea.)

I know how it’s a pain to use a tea scale if you’re not a hardcore tea person, so feel free to measure out 2 teaspoons of tea for each cup of water.

STEP 4: Steep for 5 seconds and discard water.

We’re doing what’s called a rinse. It’s to wake up the tea leaves and start them unfurling.

After the 5 second steep, take out the infuser and throw out the water in the mug.

STEP 5: Add 1 cup water and cover teapot. Steep tea for 45 seconds.

After you add a cup of hot water, steep it for 45 seconds with the lid on the mug. That’s it! Why only 45 seconds? Because we’re going to do multiple steeps. 

Yes, with good quality oolong tea, the proper way to brew is to do it multiple times.

Use your phone’s timer to set the steep time. 

I would suggest using a measuring cup to make sure you’re using 8 oz. of water. You can eyeball it the next time since you’ll know how much water needs to fill the cup to get to 8 oz.

STEP 6: Take out infuser and drink.

A mistake is to leave tea in hot water for longer than the steep time.

That’s why the infuser is great to have since you can take out the infuser and put it aside while you drink the tea.

Keep the infuser nearby since we’re going to do a second steep after you’ve drunk your first cup.

STEP 7: Steep tea again in hot water for 1 minutes and 15 seconds.

Once you’ve finished drinking your cup of tea, put the infuser with the tea back in and add another cup of hot water.

This time, steep it for 30 seconds longer, totaling 1 minute and 15 seconds. Take out the infuser and drink again. 

Notice that the tea leaves have unfurled and they actually look like real leaves.

Tea Sommelier’s Tip: The flavor of the tea should change a bit with each steep. Flavors you didn’t get in the first steep may show up in the second.

OPTIONAL STEP 8: Steep tea again and again in hot water adding 30 seconds to the previous steep time.

I can usually only drink 2 cups of tea this way, but if you can, go for a third steep or a fourth. (Although a fifth steep is probably pushing it to get the best flavors out of the tea.)

OOLONG TEA TIPS

  • Once you start buying loose tea, you’ll notice prices can get pretty high. Start with the lower priced teas.
  • Avoid flavored oolong tea like Pomegranate Oolong or Coconut Mango Oolong. Get pure tea without added flavors.
  • Since you’re just starting out, use a small mug with an infuser which is much easier to find and use than a clay teapot.

QUESTIONS YOU MAY HAVE

What does oolong tea taste like?

There isn’t just one oolong tea. There are a lot of different oolongs and they all taste a little different. Some will be fruity with floral notes and others may be sweet with honey notes.

Is there caffeine?

Yes, there is caffeine in oolong tea, about half the caffeine in a cup of coffee.

Can I add milk and sugar?

Generally, no. It’s a tea that’s usually drank without anything else added.

Is there a difference between loose tea, tea sachets, and tea bags?

When you’re first starting to get into tea, always go with loose tea if possible. You should be drinking the tea without any milk or sugar so you want to go with the better quality tea. Loose tea is better than tea sachets which is better than tea bags. Tea in tea bags is the lowest quality and should be avoided unless you’re using it for recipes or if it’s being mixed with other ingredients.

Where can I buy it?

I recommend getting oolong tea from Te Company (high quality Taiwanese oolongs), Song Tea & Ceramics (unique and high quality), Harney & Sons (good selection and free shipping).

How do you buy loose tea?

Loose tea is sold in ounces or grams and the minimum is usually 2 or 4 ounces. 2 ounces will make about 10 cups of tea. If you don’t have a scale to weigh tea, you can take the 2 ounces of tea and split it evenly into 10 portions.

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How to Brew Oolong Tea Properly

Author: Jee Choe
Step by step brewing instructions on how to make oolong tea.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 3 mins
Steep Time 1 min
Total Time 4 mins
Course Drinks
Yield1 serving

INGREDIENTS
 

INSTRUCTIONS
 

  • Boil filtered water.
    Oolong is best brewed at 185°F – 208°F water temperature. Check your tea packaging and set your electric kettle to that water temperature.
  • Warm up mug.
    Pour some hot water into the mug and swirl it around then discard the water.
  • Put 2 teaspoons of loose oolong tea into mug with an infuser.
    If using a tea scale, weigh 6 grams of tea.
  • Add hot water and steep for 5 seconds.
    Fill the mug halfway and swirl the hot water around. After 5 seconds, take out the infuser and throw out the water. This is called a rinse. It's to wake up the tea leaves and to get it to start unfurling.
  • Add 1 cup water and cover teapot. Steep tea for 45 seconds.
    Make sure the lid is on while the tea steeps.
  • Take out infuser and drink.
  • Steep tea again in hot water for 1 minute and 15 seconds.
    Once you've finished your cup, put the infuser with the tea back in and add another cup of hot water. Steep then take out the infuser and drink again. 
  • Optional — Steep tea again in hot water, adding 30 seconds to the previous steep time.
    You can steep tea a few times until the tea loses flavor.
Keyword how to brew oolong tea, oolong tea basics
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6 thoughts on “Want to Get into Oolong Tea? Start Here.”

  1. I’ve really been getting into oolong tea and it’s always nice to experience something a bit different after years and years drinking only green tea. This is (by far) the most comprehensive take on oolong I’ve found anywhere so thank you for that, Jee! I’m ordering some of the Oriental Beauty and I already can’t wait to try it.

    Reply
    • Hi Jim, the rinsing does two things. One, it “wakes up” the tea leaves when it’s in a tight ball and two, it gets rid of any impurities on the tea leaves.

      Reply

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