Sunday, 20 June 2010

What the heck do I do with this Oolong?

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's commonly brewed to be strong, with the bitterness leaving a sweet aftertaste (steep time 20 seconds-1 minute).
from Tea Timer iPhone app

If you'd told me how to brew Oolong when I first started drinking tea, I might not have bothered. Don't get me wrong. I love Oolong. If you made me choose five teas to take on a long, long trip, Oolong would definitely occupy one of the spots (maybe two).

But the more I've learned about how it's commonly steeped, the happier I am that I got into Oolong drinking/preparing slowly.

At first, I simply brewed it like black tea. Boiling hot water for far too long. How long is too long? Am a bit embarrassed to say that I use to brew tea for upwards of eight to ten minutes. I'd never do that (knowingly) today, but at the time I thought it made the tea stronger. Turns out that steeping it longer just makes most tea more bitter. The only way to make tea stronger is to use more tea. If you use two spoons of Ceylon and it tastes weak, try three.

Later, I was instructed that Oolong is like green tea and needs to be brewed with water at a lower temperature. So, always trying to follow directions, I prepared Oolong from then on as if it were a green tea. All was well in Denmark. Or so I thought.

Then I read a blogpost from a teablogger far more astute than I, who said that it was possible to get 20+ infusions of this tea. If it's good quality Oolong, I guess it's possible. But there are a few things that make these multiple infusions possible. Much shorter steep times and double the tea you'd usually use.

Most of what I've read about this sort of brewing applies to the Gong Fu-style brewing method. It's a small (often ceramic) pot that only makes one or two servings of tea. You use a lot of tea for such a small container, and only steep it for much shorter times. Maybe half a minute to a minute to start out. Because the ratio of tea to water is so much greater, you needn't steep it any longer to get a nice cup. If you do decide to try this out, be creative. Decide what your steep times are based on trial and error.

Because I don't yet have a Gong Fu pot, I essentially do the same thing described above but in a common teapot. I use the same amount of tea that I'd use for a whole pot, but only liff it with half the water. Be sure to use boiling hot water by the way.

I'm presently drinking Dung-ti Oolong, which I've written about on this site before. Let me know if you can't locate it and I'll figure out how to link to it. Am still learning how to drive this blog. May look like I'm a seasoned pro, but I'm mainly concerned with content. The technical side comes to me slowly if at all.

Somewhere I read that the first infusion is poured out in honour of your ancestors. Was not entirely sure if I had a good enough feeling about my ancestors to be throwing any tea out in their name. My grandfather came from Scottish stock. I doubt he'd approve of me throwing out perfectly good tea for him under any circumstances. I mean really.

But when I'm feeling generous, I brew my Oolong or a minute, dump what's there and start the process again. Seems stupid to me still, but I did like a handful of the ancestors I had a chance to meet. Not all of them mind you, but it seems every family has a few members who really need a good talking to. Mine is no exception.


  1. Interesting thoughts on Oolong and how long should you brew your tea.
    It is true that the longer you brew it, the bitter it becomes (although the exact biterness depends on the tea).
    However, the longer you brew your tea, the more tannin you are able to release, which helps the tea to stimulate us over a longer period of time.

  2. I am very new to any tea, not just Oolong but I like what I've tried so far. I'm just winging it really but up to now I have treated it rather gently, water just OFF the boil and not steeping too long, about 2-3minutes. Perhaps that's the trick, to do what suits you, but I am open to correction.

  3. No, Barbara. I think that's exactly how to go about it. I do what suits me, although I read a ton of websites and blogs about tea to inform my opinions.

  4. 20 infusions sounds like exaggeration to me...I'd be skeptical of that.

    The web is full of people who write as if they know what they're doing. I'm a lot more cautious myself. Perhaps I'd have a larger following or audience if I said more and sounded authoritative. But I think...bottom line, don't listen to people who tell you that there's only one correct way to brew your tea. Take suggestions and try it out yourself and come to your own conclusions.

    Personally, I like brewing oolongs with higher temperatures...otherwise they seem too bland to me, and they rarely become too bitter. I like bitterness, I think, a lot more than some tea drinkers. I think much advice abounding on the internet is really about avoiding bitterness...