No Leaf Unturned: Oolong Tea


Oolong teas are some of the most artisanal teas in the world. Highly sought-after by tea connoisseurs, oolong teas offer wonderfully complex aromatic profiles that are best savored slowly over the course of multiple infusion brewed in a traditional vessel such as a porcelain Guywan. This style is often referred to as gōngfū chá or "kung-fu tea," alluding to the mindful attentiveness needed to brew tea this way.

Oolong teas are considered "semi-oxidized," meaning that the extent of oxidation falls somewhere between green and black tea. This is achieved with a tremendous amount of skill and intense focus from the craftsman. His aim is to partially oxidize the leaf using special withering, tossing, bruising, rolling and shaping techniques. Certain oolong teas might also be roasted or baked to develop a nutty, caramelized sweetness. The oxidation degree and roasting degree are two of the main characteristics that are evaluated with oolong teas.

The Category Colors of Tea

Freshly picked Oolong tea leaves A third and very important attribute of oolong tea is the cultivar, or genetic strain of the tea plant. The botanical species of tea, Camellia sinensis, has two primary subspecies: the "small-leaf" C. sinensis subsp. sinensis; and the "broad leaf" C. sinensis subsp. assamica. Within each of these subspecies are hundreds of unique strains that are referred to as cultivars. Tea tree cultivars are analogous to varietals of wine grapes. Just as true Champagne can only be made from select grape varietals, so too can oolong teas only be made from select tea cultivars. There are hundreds of cultivars suited for oolong tea. Add to this the differences in region, elevation, and harvest season, and it is easy to see how there are endless styles of oolong tea.

Traditionally brewed high mountain Oolong tea (Gao Shan Cha)

Gongfu style tea brewing in a Teahouse The oolong process was developed during the 18th century within the fabled Wuyi Mountains of China's southeastern Fujian province. Since then, the realm of oolong tea has expanded, but the traditional regions of production include Fujian, Guangdong province and Taiwan.

Practice your Gōngfū and discover each oolong's story, one infusion at a time.