Want to Get into Oolong Tea? Start Here.
Want to get into oolong tea but don’t know where to begin? This oolong tea starter guide is exactly what you need. Get step by step brewing instructions, list of the best oolong teas for beginners, and more!
What is Oolong Tea?
Tea comes from leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. Yup, all tea comes from this one plant and if the tea isn’t from that plant, it’s not a true tea. What’s not a true tea? Herbals teas like chamomile and hibiscus.
There are six types of tea: Black, oolong, green, white, puerh, and yellow. Yellow tea is very hard to find outside China and it’s expensive so it’s not mentioned much.
After leaves are taken from the camellia sinensis plant, they go though a process to get it ready for tea. The process includes withering, oxidizing, roasting, rolling, and drying. Depending on how each tea is processed (how it’s rolled, how long it’s withered or oxidized, etc.), you get the different types of tea.
Oolong tea sit 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. White tea is the least processed.
What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?
I refer to oolong as the Goldilocks of tea in how it’s in between black and green tea and that’s what it tastes like. It’s not as earthy and strong as black tea and not as vegetal and grassy as green tea.
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 and with honey notes.
It’s not just the processing that makes the different oolong teas taste different. Where it’s grown (climate, altitude, soil) and when the tea leaves were picked can all impact the flavor.
Where is Oolong Tea From?
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.
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Famous Oolong Teas
Just like wine, different oolong teas have names according to where and how it’s made. The English names are the translations.
A handful of oolong teas are well-known and the most famous ones are:
- Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
- Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao)
- Frozen Summit (Dong Ding or Tung Ting)
There is a light roast and a dark roast and I prefer the dark.
- Oriental Beauty (Dongfeng Meiren or Bai Hao)
- Alishan, Lishan (High Mountain oolongs)
- Bao Zhong
- Phoenix (Dan Cong)
If you read down below, I have the 5 oolong teas you should start with as a beginner.
Tea Bags or Loose Tea?
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.
How Much Loose Tea to Buy
Loose tea is sold in ounces so it can get confusing to know how much to buy when you’re just getting into tea.
2 ounces is usually the norm unless the tea is really expensive and you’ll sometimes see it sold for 1 ounce.
1 ounce will make about 5 cups of tea. 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.
Where to Buy Oolong Tea Online
Here are my recommended places to get oolong tea online.
If you’re just starting to get into oolong tea, or tea in general, Harney & Sons is a my go-to recommendation since they offer a good selection and free shipping.
If you want to get deeper into Taiwanese oolong tea, Te Company is a good choice to start exploring. They’re the closest to me and my go-to when I’m looking for higher quality oolong tea. My favorite oolong to drink both hot and cold brew is Frozen Summit and I get mine from Te Company.
If you want to try oolongs that are a little more unique, Song Tea & Ceramics is your best bet. Highly curated tea selection that is worth a look. Their Shan Lin Xi Winter Sprout blew me away the first time I had it — it tastes just like cotton candy!
How to Get into Oolong Tea
If you want to get into tea, oolong is the perfect place to start. It’s easier to brew correctly than black or green tea since it’s a lot more forgiving. It’ll still taste good even if you brew it for too long and even if you don’t get the exact water temperature.
Here’s the secret to getting into oolong tea — drink a lot of it. But wait, there is a method to this. Drink one oolong tea for one whole week. No other tea that entire time. (You can make it 2 weeks if you don’t get to drink it every day.)
By the end of the week, you should know this tea inside and out. The goal is to be able to taste the tea at a later time and recognize it.
It’s wonderful when you take a sip and a lightbulb goes on in your head — Ah ha! This is Frozen Summit!
What You Need as an Oolong Tea Beginner
- Loose oolong tea
- Mug with an infuser
This one is as close to perfect as I can find. White, ceramic, and not too big.
I use the one on my phone.
NICE TO HAVE:
How to Brew Oolong Tea in a Cup with Infuser
If you’re just starting to get into tea, I recommend brewing in a mug with an infuser. It’s not as intimidating as using a clay tea pot or any other traditional tea brewing containers and it just the exact same job as long as you know the proper brewing steps.
STEP 1 : Boil water.
I like using an electric kettle 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.
STEP 2: Measure 1 tablespoon of loose oolong tea.
Oolong tea comes in different shapes and sizes so it’s best to use a tea scale instead of a teaspoon.
But, I also 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 1 tablespoon of tea for each cup of water.
If using a tea scale, put in 5 or 6 grams of tea.
STEP 3: Add hot water to tea in mug with an infuser.
The mug with an infuser should hold a little more than 8 oz. of water. If you get too big of a mug, it’ll be hard to figure out the water to tea ratio and the balance will be off.
With the infuser in the mug, put in tea and add hot water (8 oz.). Cover.
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 4: Steep for 10 seconds and discard water.
We’re doing what’s called a rinse. It’s to wake up the tea leaves and to get it to start unfurling. This step also warms up the cup.
STEP 5: Add hot water and steep for 1 minute.
After you add a cup of hot water, steep it for 1 minute. That’s it! Why only 1 minute? 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.
STEP 6: Take out infuser.
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 had your first cup.
STEP 7: Steep tea again in hot water for 1 1/2 minutes.
Once you’ve finished your cup, put the infuser with the tea back in and add another cup of hot water. This time, we’re going to steep it for 30 seconds longer, totaling 1 1/2 minutes. Take out the infuser and drink again.
Notice that the tea leaves have unfurled and they actually look like real leaves.
The flavor of the tea should have changed too a bit in the second steep. Flavors you didn’t get in the first steep may show up in the second.
STEP 8: Optional — 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.)
Note the flavor changes and how the tea leaves have unfurled even more.
5 Oolong Teas Perfect for Beginners
I have 5 oolong teas that I recommend you try first.
You should steep each one for an entire week before moving onto the next one so that you can familiarize yourself with each one.
Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
Iron Goddess is a great tea to start with oolong tea. One of the most well-known oolong teas, it’s a tea you should definitely know.
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.
Frozen Summit (Dong Ding or Tung Ting)
My absolute favorite oolong. I like mine when it’s dark roasted, giving it a nutty taste.
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.
Bao Zhong doesn’t have an English translation like the ones above but it’s an oolong you should know. A light oolong, it’s delicate and floral.
Instead of being rolled like most oolong tea, Bao Zhong is made my twisting the tea leaves.
Tips for Getting into Oolong
- Buy loose tea instead of oolong in tea bags.
- Once you start buying loose tea, you’ll notice prices can get pretty high. Start with the lower priced ones.
- Get 2 ounces of tea which will make 10 cups.
- 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.