The Making of Oolong Tea

By making of Oolong tea I do not refer to brewing a cup of tea, I am talking about how Wulong tea, as it is also know, comes to be. It is much less known than green or black tea, it is said to be a “blue-green” tea. Less fermented than black tea and more so than green tea, Oolong tea is one of the most famous kind of Chinese teas.

Wu Long means “black dragon” in Chinese, and refers to the color that leaves affect once dried.

This tea does come with a legend, as many things that have been around for so long do. The legend is that a tea planter seeking new flavors for his tea, saw a huge black serpent come out of a bush. He was convinced by this presence that it was his destiny, and he quickly tasted the leaves from this bush. Thus Oolong tea came to be.

But the fact is that the bush had nothing to do with either the flavor, the color or the benefits of Wu long tea. It is in the way tea is processed that color, flavor and properties are created.

First, Wulong tea is left in the sun to wither for about an hour after being collected, then they are moved to a shaded area where they can cool off.

The second step in the process is sweating, leaves are worked in a room where a constant temperature between 22 and 25°C, and a level of humidity of about 85%. In these conditions, the cellular structure of the leaves breaks down and slowly release an enzyme which when reacting with air start the process of oxidation. Unlike black tea which is the result of an intense oxidation, Oolong tea is oxidized slowly and gently, naturally at first then intensified slightly by rolling the leaves manually, gently and consistently. Sweating is stopped when optimal oxidation is estimated, at this point the aroma is ideal and leaf structure is supple. It takes only a couple of hours to oxidize black tea, yet the slow and gentle partial oxidation of Wu Long tea can last as long as 15 hours.

The third step is roasting. From the sweating stage leaves are taken to intense drying heat, at a temperature slightly lower than 200°C for a period of time varying from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Roasting cause sweating to come to an abrupt end, and make leaves supple for rolling.

Rolling is a difficult step, it is intended to compress leaves as much as possible without damaging them. It is done while they are still hot and flexible. This produces a tea like “pearls” the size of peas, and very dense. They can expand up to 5 times their volume while brewing, and can therefore sustain consecutive brewing.

Once rolled, the leaves are dried to a maximum 3% moisture.

Oolong tea only accounts for 3% of the world tea consumption. It is low in tein, and its taste is mellow and soft, somewhat like that of chestnut, hazelnut and honey.

This process that is long and seems difficult is responsible for the beautiful color of Oolong tea, its incredible flavor, and all the health benefits of Wulong tea

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