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.