How to Select Oolong Tea

Sunday, 26 July 2015  |  Adam

Rich, aromatic, fresh and bright. Oolong teas are comprised of some of the most distinctive and popular teas in the world. The unique process that goes into their production requires a number of careful steps starting from harvesting, sun-withering and tossing, before going on to forming, drying and firing.

This multifarious journey from mountainside to cup allows for tremendous variety and creativity, offering a great assortment of textures and flavours. But with such diversity, choosing the right oolong tea to match your tastes, place and time can be a daunting prospect.

So when considering which to go with, bear in mind when, where and how you’ll be most likely to enjoy your oolong; if you’ll be accompanying it with something sweet, savoury or by itself; and if you want to enjoy creamy-smooth, fruity-bright, or a subtle blend of both.

The basics

Firstly, as general rule when selecting your oolong tea, you should be looking for tightly curled leaves of deep, rich green tones with gold-green highlights. Aromas will vary considerably, but within that variety, expect clear, fresh tangs which may be fruity and sweet, with bold fragrances and creamy textures.

For one of the most respected oolong teas available, the Taiwanese oolong mountain tea Dongding Oolong offers an extremely distinctive blend of fruity flavours. Deep in texture and sweet in fragrance, leaves are evenly rolled and heavy-baked in order to help achieve its rich complexity.

For the beginner

There really is no better place to start your exploration of oolong teas than with Tie Guan Yin Supreme. Leaves should be rolled into very tightly knitted balls, looking thickly curled and spinachy. Light oxidation gives a deep, woody green colour and results in a deliciously-lingering honey sweetness.

Great for chilly mornings, and perfect after a creamy porridge breakfast, Tie Guan Yin can be infused several times, and will grow in strength after the initial infusion.

For the connoisseur

Very lightly oxidised, the tightly-rolled balls of Monkey Picked Tie Guan Yin slowly unfurl to release intense, long-lasting, floral-buttery fragrances. Steep it gently to bring out those floral notes, or at higher temperatures for greater intensity.

This limited-edition oolong is handmade by a small family of artisan producers, and is perfect to enjoy after a summer-fruit jam or sweet biscuit.

An alternative

If you’d like something bright, distinct and pleasingly complex, Taiwanese Ginseng Oolong carries with it the benefits of a lightly-oxidised, flavoursome black tea, combined with the emboldening properties and richness of ginseng roots. Great to savour in the middle of a long afternoon, this oolong’s tingly-floral nuttiness makes an excellent accompaniment to citrusy flavours, or to brighten the palate after a sweet pastry.

One for luck

Ali Shan Oolong is a much admired, high-grown tea, milky-sweet stunner, of golden liquor and soft, fruity notes that are typical of Taiwanese high-mountain oolongs. Very versatile as an accompaniment, this Ali Shan is also delicious as a stand-alone tea that’s fresh, creamy, and can be infused several times over. Perhaps at its best towards the end of a summer evening? We’ll let you decide.

The Tea Makers of London