Loose Leaf Oolong Tea: The Process Of Fermentation

by Elena Popec 24. September 2010 12:39

Oolong or Wu Long means "Black Dragon". Oolongs are half-fermented (or semi-oxidized) teas that are in the specialty tea family. Half-fermented because the processing of Oolong tea requires only a partial fermentation (oxidation) of the leaves. Oolongs occupy an intermediate position between non-fermented green teas and fully fermented black teas and are the most diverse and interesting loose leaf teas. Oolongs can have varying degrees of oxidation that ranges somewhere between 10-35% in classic Chinese Oolongs to 60-70% in classic Taiwanese (Formosa) Oolongs. Oolong specialty tea is often made from mature leaves, collected from older tea trees.

Processing Oolong is considered the art of tea, where the character of tea is created. Tea masters participate in Oolong tea processing competitions to demonstrate their professional skills at this fine art.

Let’s take a look at Oolong manufacturing process.

There are no standard recipes on how to manufacture oolong tea; it is up to the discretion of each tea garden or tea master to decide on processing and the level of oxidation.
 
Immediately after gathering, the tea leaves are spread in a thin layer on special bamboo mats under direct sunlight for withering that will let most of water evaporate. The withering process time varies depending on the ambient temperature.
 
The next step of processing is very peculiar, withered leaves are placed in a large bamboo basket and put in a shady area. Approximately every hour, the tea leaves are shacked and gently tumbled in order to bruise the edges of the leaves to start an oxidation, at the same time avoiding breaking or crushing them. This procedure has to be done several times, until following effect will be reached: bruised up edges of the leaves due to the fermentation become brown blush (like 'rusty'), while veins and parts of the leaves should remain green.

Once the desired level of fermentation is reached, the oxidation process should be stopped immediately. This is achieved through the heat drying phase of raw materials in scorching air called "panning". The pan roasting of the leaves requires extensive experience in Oolong tea processing.

Most Oolongs are dried in two stages: first is partially, primary drying and rolling of tea leaves, then a final finish drying. Some highly fermented Oolongs undergo an additional stage of wetting and softening.

The partially drying process is carried out manually. This stage is necessary to stop the fermentation. Partially drying can be done in 2-4 steps, when the raw material is taken out of the oven, quickly cooled, then rolled. Then again dried in the oven, rapidly cooled, then rolled again, and so on. Afterwards, the leaves go through a final drying phase, ending oxidation and often followed by baking (roasting). Several kinds of Oolong are not rolled just dried after panning. With such a "multistage" technology, taste and degree of fermentation of Oolongs differentiate. Although, manufacturing Oolong is very intensive and meticulous process, unique aroma and flavor profile of this specialty tea makes this tea worth the trouble.

Good quality Oolongs are only loose leaf teas, not tea bags!

The most widely known and actively exported Oolongs are Chinese (Fujian and Yunnan) and Taiwanese (Formosa). Among the most well-known are Formosa Oolongs. Grown and manufactured in Taiwan, named after the province in which grown, these teas are considered the best in quality and affordability among Oolong the loose leaf tea family. Taiwanese Oolongs are often called "Champagne of Teas". Typically Taiwanese Oolongs are specifically labeled that indicates the quality of tea:

1. Fanciest or Extra Fancy
2. Fancy
3. Extra Choice or Extra Fine
4. Fine
5. Fully Superior
6. Superior
7. Good
8. Standard

Chinese Oolongs are famous for the fact that are used in a Chinese traditional procedure named Gongfu Cha and withstand up to 7 steepings.

Brewing Oolong is a very delicate process because it strongly depends on the type of oolong, more precisely, the degree of its fermentation. A lightly fermented Oolong is closest to the brewing of green tea with 190-195 degrees water and the brewing time 1-3 minutes. More fermented Oolong (such as Formosa) is brewing a little longer 4-5 min in hotter water 203-212. After brewing a quality Oolong has pronounced specific characteristics that cannot be mixed with any other kinds of tea.

 The best quality Oolongs expresses a strong and rich floral aroma and a remarkable peachy flavor with a honey-sweet aftertaste. Oolongs that closer in oxidation to black teas, have a nutty, toasted flavor. Color of brew is very diverse: from light yellow with green notes (like green tea) to a dark red. Oolong specialty teas contribute 2% of tea consumption of all the teas all over the world.

Enjoy a great cup of Oolong, happy drinking!

Drinking tea is not just an ordinary beverage... Part 3

by Elena Popec 21. September 2010 13:22

Afternoon tea is a tea for five o'clock, tea for the guests, tea for tea party...tea for the sake of tea.
 
Unlike tea for breakfast, the afternoon tea has a rather complex functionality. Therefore, the requirements to the afternoon drink also become more complex. An attempt to formulate them will lead to the next set of very subjective concepts: not very strong, elegant, delicate, exquisite, fragrant, friendly and pleasant for everyone's drinking it, also worthy of attention as a topic for conversation.

The simplest requirement, at first glance, is the requirement regarding the robustness of a drink. It is understandable that afternoon tea should not be very energizing, by no means it implies that tea served in the evening should be weak. Consider one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per cup, plus one extra spoon for the pot. Although, I'd suggest serving two or perhaps three varieties of the afternoon tea, but that is a matter of personal choice.

We'll try to address the remaining requirements and find out what teas are more felicitous to these qualifications.

Let's start with the elegance and sophistication of tea, which, of course, can manifest itself in tea's taste, aroma, color of infusion and aftertaste. The refined and delicate teas are traditionally considered Indian Darjeeling’s and Chinese black teas as well as blends, prepared on their basis. I also would like to suggest mildly flavored teas. Vanilla, Cinnamon, Caramel or Bergamot (Earl Grey) teas are good examples of flavored daintiness, not too complicated, familiar and friendly. This does not detract from the merits of afternoon teas, but suggests a few more simple elegance and fragrance solutions. Lapsang Souchong with its smoky notes, Russian Samovar with earthy notes may be a very appreciated additions to one's afternoon tea collection.

All these teas are good due to the fact that in extension to their undoubted sensational gustatory and aromatic excellence, they are very simple to perceive. They do not require from people who drink them special training or knowledge of tea tester. Moreover, their divine simplicity starts the conversation that will go beyond the question "What kind of tea are we drinking today?"

Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that to find a universal afternoon tea is practically impossible. The choice of beverage will greatly depend on the guests who gathered at the tea table, the dishes served with tea, and the host. There is only one solution to the problem, which is simple enough - in a decent home should be a few afternoon teas on the shelf. You can choose to your taste any combination of the above suggestions to complete your personal collection of the afternoon tea.

In the next article we'll talk about exotic flavored teas as refinements that are more percisely characterizes the owner of tea collection...

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Drinking tea is not just an ordinary beverage... Part 2

by Elena Popec 14. September 2010 12:19

Tea for breakfast. The concept of this tea is very simple. The morning tea will invigorate and contribute to the early awakening, this quite simple function uniquely determines its properties. It must be strong, energizing, have a rich taste (aroma can be neglected this time) and well combined with sugar, milk, lemon and a variety of the breakfast choices. Small leaf teas and blends posses these qualities.

Ceylon, Kenyan, small leaf Assam, almost any CTC teas and, of course, various blends can be used for breakfast. To make your life easier, sellers of tea offer a large number of morning teas, in the names of which there is a word Breakfast. All these teas are perfectly fulfilling the function of a beverage for breakfast. Without thinking, I can recall the following : English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Russian samovar, Irish morning ...

So, equipping your tea collection with the morning element can simply be done by buying any strong tea you like. If you want to show some independence and to go beyond the framework outlined by sellers, then as a tea for breakfast chose Ceylon and Indian Assam teas. This, however, I already wrote. Indian Darjeeling and Chinese teas, as well as blends, prepared on their basis, perhaps, is not a good idea to use as a breakfast choice.

There is another option of tea for breakfast, which is actively used by your obedient author. This choice has been made due to three reasons. First, my traditional morning sandwich (toast with butter, melted cheese and pate) does not require anything special. Secondly, in the morning I drink tea with sugar and lemon (sugar for the energy, and lemon is a great source of vitamins). These additives will make any tea taste quite the same. Third, when half-awake, I particularly do not discern any smell or taste. So, on my tea shelf I keep a jar on which "Crazy Breakfast" is written and in which I pour the remains of black CTC teas and broken leaves. And this is often a mixture I made myself and love the most as an improvisation for starting a new day with new expectations.

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Tea Talk

Drinking tea is not just an ordinary beverage... Part 1

by Elena Popec 13. September 2010 11:47

If in your personal life or in your career tea is something more than just a drink to flush down a sandwich, then sooner or later on your tea shelf will be not one, but several kinds of this blessed drink.

Then you will wonder what exactly tea should be in your permanent tea repertoire.

When compiling the individual tea sets there are two possible approaches by type and by function. In the first case, a tea set is made up of specific varieties of tea, in the second set all teas are selected based on the functions they must perform. The second campaign seems to me more sensible, as a more versatile and flexible. At the end, a tea set can be regarded as a set of specific varieties of tea, perform the general functions. These functions I would like to describe in more details, supplying the description with the recommendations of specific varieties. Enough, lets get started...

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Tea Talk

Green Tea for enthusiasts of exquisite feelings

by Elena Popec 3. September 2010 10:00

"Tea is our everything."
(Confucius, in a private conversation).

If we collect the leaves from bushes or trees of Camellia Sinensis and dry them (in the sun, in the shade, on a hot stone...), we'll get green tea. There are thousands of ways to collect, roll, dry, wither but the essence of the result remains the same - green tea. One has to spend a whole life away from civilization in order not to be aware of the beneficial properties of green tea, tons of material written about it. But green tea also has a delightful personality and deep meaning. Tea means harmony, calm, etiquette, and optimism.
 
Green tea is like a beautiful woman, it is lighter, softer, deeper, more mysterious than black tea, which is dark, astringent, tart and explodes with all its force in the first brew, like Cassius Clay in the first round. The aroma of green tea is delicate, long-lasting, unfolding carefully, deeply in multiple brews.

Green tea is not only a drink, but also a pleasantly fragrant atmosphere throughout the tea drinking ceremony. Try to rinse dry green tea leaves with hot water. Just a minute later, when the tea will absorb moisture and begin to exude the fragrance ... inhale it. Whoever has not tried this before, will find this experience unforgettable! There are aesthetes who claim that this knowledge is very important to human development.

Women naturally love and appreciate a gallery of scents more than men, therefore they fall in love with green tea indefinitely for its delightful fragrance. Green tea is exquisite, do not expect overwhelming taste, penetrating into the charms of green tea takes time. Do not be surprised if soon after your acquaintance with green tea, you'll notice that you eat less greasy foods or smoke less - green tea refines the taste, exacerbates it, opens a door to a healthy lifestyle.

To steep a perfect brew, in addition to the delightful kingdom of the aroma, always use good quality water of with the correct temperature.Never use boiling water, delicate green teas unfold the best in temp of 176 F. It will take 2 to 3 minutes to brew an excellent cup of green tea. The second brew is a copy of the first! Don't rush, green tea does not tolerate fuss. And so, gradually making the water a little hotter, and steeping time a little longer, so green tea can be brewed a several times, each time its taste and flavor will change and deepen ...

Do not oversteep green tea, its color should never be darker than the light golden, with a slight green tint. The best way to serve green tea is in white bone china or porcelain, where the shades of its color are emphasized, or celadon, which is "native" to green tea and where green tea looks exceptionally beautiful.

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Tea Talk

Spirit of Specialty Tea

by Elena Popec 1. September 2010 16:37

Do you remember who said this? "Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it."

I believe that this comprehensive phrase belongs to Salvador Dali. Although, I'm not a big fan of his work, nonetheless, this man has earned the right to argue about perfection.

I remembered this phrase in connection with the fact that, once again, while brewing good loose leaf tea, I forgot to warm the teapot...That feeling of vexation from a tiny little thing that can ruin a great thing is probably familiar to many, particularly programmers. So, at first I was agitated by this very annoying fact. "Shoot!...Good water, good tea, good dishes and I spoiled everything by one simple mistake".

Then I started drinking this imperfect brew and, surprisingly, was relieved. My cup of tea was wonderful! I think, the pleasure of drinking tea is like the side of the scale on which each puts his own weights, one might say, his expectations. On the other side is good tea and water, the ability to steep it to perfection, good friends are gathered around the table, aromatic brew, tidy and suitable utensils - all this falls on the side of pleasure.

Keep in mind, the scale is a delicate instrument, if there is not enough weights, the pleasure to drink tea will be superficial and boring. On another hand, if all of the weights are on one side of the scale, it will be overwhelmed and the pleasure will become overloaded with fun, but void of delightfulness. Tea drinking is subtle and a pleasant experience which will be replaced with the mechanical compliance of all provisions of the rules.


Tea is more than a drink, tea has a spirit. It's an easy way to find new friends and a good excuse to see the old ones. Tea can help anyone to talk about themselves and get to know others better. Tea brings peace and tranquility to our souls. The remarkable properties of this blessed beverage appear only in conjunction with the wishes of people gathered at the tea table, sharing and enjoying a cup of tea. Then, the real pleasure from drinking tea will be obtained.

So, do not be afraid of perfection. Strive for it, learn all the rules, breathe properly, appropriately set your mind, recalculate all the loose tea leaves, carefully watch the temperature of the water, picks up the teapot, cups and the company ... And then, slyly smiling, do something unexpected, from what your cup of tea at once cease to be perfect, but it will be special and unique tea in its incredible mixture of strict rules and light improvisations ...

Are you ready to take this improvised journey with specialty tea to the bottom of the cup?

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Tea Talk

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