In Chinese tea culture, semi-oxidized oolong teas are collectively grouped as qīngchá (Chinese: 青茶; literally “blue-green tea”). Oolong has a taste more akin to green tea than to black tea: it lacks the rosy, sweet aroma of black tea but it likewise does not have the stridently grassy vegetal notes that typify green tea. It is commonly brewed to be strong, with the bitterness leaving a sweet aftertaste. Several subvarieties of oolong, including those produced in the Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian and in the central mountains of Taiwan, are among the most famous Chinese teas.
Oolong tea leaves are processed in two different ways. Some teas are rolled into long curly leaves, while some are pressed into a ball-like form similar to gunpowder tea. The former method of processing is the older of the two.
Classification and grade
Tea connoisseurs classify the tea by its aroma (often floral or fruity), taste and aftertaste (often melony). Oolongs comes in either roasted (炭焙) or light (密香 or 清香). While most oolongs can be consumed immediately post-production, like pu-erh tea, many oolong can benefit from long aging with regular light roasting with a low charcoal fire (烘培, pinyin:hōngpeì, literally: bake cultivation or 焙火, pinyin:peìhǔo, dry roasting by fire). Before roasting, Oolong tea leaves are rolled and bruised to break open cell walls and stimulate enzymatic activity. The process of roasting removes unwanted odors from the tea and reduces any sour or astringent tastes; in addition, the process is believed to make the oolong tea more gentle on the stomach.
Generally, 2.25 grams of tea per 170 grams of water, or about two teaspoons of oolong tea per cup, should be used. Oolong teas should be prepared with 180°F to 190°F (82°C-87°C) water (not boiling) and steeped 3-4 minutes. High quality oolong can be brewed multiple times from the same leaves, and unlike green tea it improves with reuse. It is common to brew the same leaves three to five times, the third steeping usually being the best.
An additional widely used method of brewing oolongs in Taiwan and China is called gongfucha. This method utilizes a small brewing vessel, such as a gaiwan or Yizing clay pot, with a large amount of tea to water ratio. Multiple short steeps of 20 seconds to 1 minute are done and are often served in small tasting cups about the size of a thimble.