Our guide to Oolong

Oolong tea was one of the first teas to really blow my mind.

I clearly remember a pot of Tie Guan Yin oolong in the lobby of a hotel in Xiamen back in the late 1990s. It cost $50 and I couldn’t get my head around that.

How could a pot of tea cost $50?

And this was over 20 years ago. It was bought for me by a client (in my life before I became the Rare Tea Lady) and made for me by a skilled waitress at our table. She carefully infused the tea from a Gaiwan teapot into a jug for us to pour into tiny cups, not much bigger than thimbles.

It was a revelation. I fell deeply, completely for the Iron Goddess of Mercy (as Tie Guan Yin is also known). We drank 6 infusions from the same leaf and every time hot water hit those lovely leaves new subtleties of flavour were revealed. The waitress returned as we finished each jug and re-infused the leaves, then carefully decanted the tea into the jug for us the enjoy.

I have been used to dunking an industrial tea bag once in a mug, then binning it, not incredible oolong loose leaf tea that kept on giving and giving. I was mesmerised by everything from the tea are, to the artistry of the making to the flavour. To this day I am still amazed by the extraordinary layers of oolong tea flavour revealed in every pot.

What does oolong tea taste like? It really depends on the type of oolong. Just as it would be hard to explain what white wine tastes like, there is not one flavour profile for all oolong. Each beautifully crafted oolong tea is incredibly complex, changing and developing with every steep. Oolong teas lie artfully between green tea and black tea. The leaves have been partially oxidised. How much oxidisation significantly changes the flavour profile and the tea master crafting his oolong will control many factors to affect this oxidisation.

A lightly oxidised Tie Guan Yin oolong

A more heavily oxidised Da Hong Pao

If you prefer lighter, green tea flavours the less oxidised yellow gold oolongs may be the tea you will enjoy more. You might try our Iron Goddess Tie Guan Yin oolong or Golden Lily Milk oolong. These oolong teas are brighter, fruiter and have more green notes. If you are looking for an oolong flavour that is a bit deeper and maltier, more towards the flavour of black tea, you might enjoy the longer oxidised and longer roasted Sunset oolong, Da Hong Pao oolong or Waikato oolongs. The flavour notes are far more biscuits with rich caramels. Unlike black tea, however, these oolongs taste less bitter.

I recommend infusing oolong quickly - with a high leaf to water ratio, in a Gaiwan teapot. Here is a short film explaining how. You can, of course, infuse it in a normal teapot too, and it will be every bit as delicious. What I do really strongly advocate is that you only drink loose leaf oolong tea.

These beautifully crafted leaves really need space to unfurl as they infuse, especially the rolled oolongs. There really is no way the flavours can extract properly unless you infuse loose oolong tea. In a teabag, whatever its shape or material, the leaf will be restricted and the flavour of any oolong tea will be seriously impaired.

People often ask me – what is oolong tea good for? Is oolong tea good for you? Can oolong tea be used for weight loss?

My answer is always the same, loose leaf tea, grown sustainably without pesticides or herbicides (have a look here at our approach to organic tea) and crafted by skilled men and women to be the very best expression of the leaf possible - is always going to taste better and be better for you than industrially processed tea made for volume by vast machines and stuffed in a bag.

Real tea, crafted by real people

Oolong tea, specifically, is mostly a later pick – leaving the leaf on the bush for a longer period increases its caffeine content. So the caffeine in oolong tea might be higher, which is one of the reasons I prefer several quick infusions, spacing out the caffeine in my tea. Those six infusions through an afternoon at my desk keep me topped up beautifully.

The only scientific research I have found related to oolong tea and weight loss suggests that possibly higher caffeine levels may help speed up the metabolism, but that its. If anyone tells you anything else, I would ask for some research data to back up their claims. Don’t even get me started on detox tea.

One last thing, when you look at the price of our loose leaf oolong tea, please remember that it really can be infused six times, so you get pots and pots of flavour out of a few grams. What looks like and tastes like the luxury tea is actually very affordable - especially when you compare it to the cost of a glass of wine or a high street coffee.

All the best,