Loose Leaf Oolong Tea: The Process Of Fermentation

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!

Properly Storing Loose Leaf Teas

Loose leaf tea is a delightful, delectable tea that is packed with health benefits for you. But protecting this tea, and keeping it fresh and delicious, involves storing it in a proper container. Heat, air, light, and moisture, are some elements that could potentially damage the tea or drain it of nutrients, so it’s important to keep the tea protected from these elements.

Loose leaf vs. tea bags
Sure, tea bags may seem to be convenient. But in the long run, they can be harmful to you. Tea bags are almost unrecognizable as tea anymore. The nutrients and antioxidants have been beaten out of it, resulting in little more than “tea dust.” The processing of these teas may also have left traces of harmful chemicals that will bring on inimical side effects. Loose leaf tea on the other hand is intact, with more antioxidants and nutrients, and more flavor. It is processed through simpler methods and allowed to retain its sweet, rich aromas and the taste is far superior to tea bags. When you brew loose leaf tea, the water has room to move around the leaves, which brings out the flavor.

Health benefits of loose leaf tea

Drinking tea every day yields many results that are beneficial to your health. It can help you to lose weight, help lower your cholesterol, prevent you from developing high blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular disease, and improve your dental health. Regular tea drinking may prevent you from developing cancer. It may also help improve your sleep, ward off headaches, improve your memory, improve cognitive functions such as learning, and help to prevent you from developing arthritis and types of dementia. Tea is just packed with an almost countless number of health benefits. Green tea has even been shown to lead to a longer life-span.

How to store tea
Tea of course should be stored at room temperature, and the best way to protect it from heat, moisture, and other elements is by keeping it in an airtight container. Tea can’t be sealed and put in a freezer, as this will damage it. Likewise it cannot be kept near a toaster, stove, or microwave or any other type of heat, as this will also damage the tea. If kept in a pretty, but not airtight container, the tea will lose its flavor fairly quickly.
Try not to use containers that are clear plastic or clear glass. This leaves the tea accessible to light which can damage it. Try to store tea away from any foods or spices that are strongly scented or flavored, as teas can easily absorb the flavor and aroma of the food around them.

Drink up
Don’t keep tea for too long, as over time, even in the best of storage containers, tea will lose its flavor and nutrients. Tea is meant to be consumed. And drinking a few cups of tea every day will help improve your health and has even been shown to lengthen your life. So brew some tea. You can even brew tea and refrigerate it to enjoy refreshing iced tea all week.

How to Find a Great Blend Tea

The choices of flavors of teas can be overwhelming. There are literally thousands of different types and flavor pairings of teas. There are more types of teas in existence than a person could ever possibly try even in an entire lifetime. So, there are some things you should take into consideration when choosing a tea to taste.

The Basics
There are four main types of tea: black, oolong, white, and green. Among these there are many varied flavors, but most teas fall under one of these varieties. Another thing to consider is the quality of the tea. Tea that has been processed by hand has the best flavor, much better flavor than teas that have been processed by other means. The quality of the flavor is another thing to take into consideration. Natural flavorings are always the best choice.

Black Tea
Among the different types of teas, it’s important to know the main differences to begin trying out which ones you might like. Black tea is the most consumed worldwide but it has a strong flavor and the highest level of caffeine. It can handle strong flavors such as chocolate and strong fruits.

Green Tea
Green tea tastes sweet but has a very natural almost plant-like flavor. Most fruit flavors work well with green tea, as do herbs and spices. There are some flavors that could overpower the tea, however.

White Tea
White tea has a sweet flavor and aroma but its flavor can be overpowered by others very easily. Certain flower or fruit flavors do enhance the tea quite well. Melon and jasmine are examples which enhance the white tea flavor. Peaches, pears, and roses are also excellent to be paired with this type of tea.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea has complex flavors, and it varies in flavor depending on how it is processed. It can range from being very similar to a black tea, to being very close to green tea. Peaches, apples, or oranges can be paired with this type of tea to enhance its flavor, but almonds or other types of nuts make good parings as well. Some spices and flowers can be paired with oolong tea as well.

The Health Benefits
There are many flavors of tea, but the health benefits of certain types of tea may alter your decision as well. Green tea and white tea have the most natural antioxidants of the other types of teas. When pairing these teas with healthy fruits full of antioxidants, you’ve brewed a drink exploding with health benefits. There are many fruits, spices, and nuts which have health benefits of their own that can be deliciously paired with white or green teas.

So How to Choose?
Learn what flavor teas you enjoy the most. Take some daring risks and try some flavor pairings you might not think would go well together. There are many different combinations of flavors of tea. Try out some different flavors and see which types of tea and which pairings you like the best. And by all means have some tea adventures and risk trying some bold new flavor pairings.

Four Main Varieties of Loose Tea

There are thousands of varieties of tea throughout the world, and even among these the tea can be processed in a unique and different way. India’s Assam region harvests the most tea, and second in total world production is Sri Lanka. Among the varieties of tea are oolongs, assam, darjeeling, silver needle, wuyi, gyokuro, sencha, dragon well, white peony, and ceylon. There are thousands of types of teas, and the choices can be overwhelming. Most of these different types fall under four main types. These four main ones are ones which you are probably familiar with if you are a regular tea drinker: green, black, oolong, and white teas.

Do the Different Types of Teas Come from Different Plants?
There is only one type of plant that tea comes from, which may surprise someone who is new to the world of tea. All tea comes from the Camellia sinesis plant. There are some teas, called tisanes, which don’t come from Camellia sinesis. These include chamomile and herbal teas. But a newcomer might wonder how the single plant produces so many different types of teas.

If Teas All Come from the Same Plant, What Makes Them Different?
Anything can change the outcome of a tea. And there is a lot that affects the Camellia sinesis plant. Changes in the weather or different altitudes can impact how a tea turns out. Different parts of the world have different climates and different compounds of soil. These account for very varied types of teas that exist in the world today. A look at the four main types of tea:

Green Tea
Green tea is pretty well known these days and it offers many health benefits. It’s harvested in the spring, and after harvesting the oxidation process is stopped. Green tea is fermented a little longer. Some types are grown in the shade, and some are grown in sunshine. It’s a common variety of tea and can be found in most grocery stores, but there are certain types of this tea which are incredibly expensive. Some types of green tea can cost hundreds for a few ounces.

Black Tea
Black tea is oxidized more than the other three types of teas. The leaves are left to dry until they turn dark. It is also known to have health benefits as the other types. Black tea has much more caffeine than the other types of tea, and is consumed more world wide than the other types of tea.

Oolong Tea
Oolong, also called wu long, has a longer oxidation process, like black tea. Oolong tea varies in taste, but can have a woody or flowery flavor. Oolong is similar to green and black teas, and is a cross between the two.

White Tea
White tea is harvested in the spring, like green tea. It’s sweet in taste and has a delicious aroma. It is the least fermented type of tea and goes through a very simple process. It’s simply left out to be dried by the sun or in a room with specially controlled climate. It has health benefits that include its ability to fight cancer and fight off organisms that cause disease.

Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas


Darjeeling is the Chinese variations of the Camelia sinensis tea grown on Indian plantations in the province of Darjeeling and considered one of the most exquisite and expensive teas in the world. By the methods of cultivation and production, Darjeeling is closer to the Chinese teas rather than to the Indian teas. This is a small leaf tea, with slightly astringent taste and rich delicate floral aroma. Although Darjeeling is marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolongs than black teas.
This tea has a delicate taste due to the unique natural conditions of the region where it grows: cold and humid climate, high altitude location of plantations and the characteristics of the soil. Depending on the location and time of collecting, the taste, aroma and characteristics of Darjeeling are highly different. The most significant impact on tea quality has seasonal factors. Not everyone will be able to distinguish the differences, for example, between Darjeeling Makaibari and Darjeeling Lingia. The difference between a drink obtained from the leaves collected in the spring, versus leaves from the same plantation, but harvested in early summer, will be obvious. The best varieties of Darjeeling is consider the "champagne of teas". The methods of processing tea leaves are very traditional, it includes withering, rolling, fermentation and drying, which is why this tea is so highly valued. 
First of all, today there are only 86 existing plantations of Darjeeling with a total area of about 19.000 hectare. Annual production on average is 11-12 thousand tons. This is about 1% of the total cultivated tea in India. It should be be noted that it would be impossible to obtain the taste qualities if Darjeeling if cultivated outside this region, therefore, making it an exclusive beverage. 
The labor on plantations is very tedious and demanding, the normal requires a production force of  about 52 thousand people that are constantly engaged. While in the tea harvesting season, which lasts from March to November, an additional 15 thousand workers are hired. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women.
The collection of tea leaves takes place 4 times per year. The first harvest is the so-called Easter (March-May) begins immediately after the winter lull. Leaves collected at this time are light-green color. The characteristics of a good First Flush Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color infusion. The connoisseurs of Darjeeling tea compare the first collection to tasteful green grapes "muscatel." Perhaps, that is why Darjeeling is called “champagne of teas”. Tea mixture of the first collection is very highly regarded by experts; it consists only of the upper leaves and buds that give this tea such exquisite taste. First Flush Darjeeling is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent harvest from the same plantation.
The second collection takes place during the months of a May - June. Tea leaves collected during this period have a reddish color. Infusion is softer, intense, featuring a bright amber color. Because this tea is collected in the last month of spring and early summer, it has a light fruity aroma and a peculiar aftertaste. Darjeeling from the second collection, also called "In-Between", is considered a tea of high quality and is recommended as an afternoon tea. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The "In-Between" is often used as a profitable blend, due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
The summer collection takes place from June - July. During this period, the properties of the tea leaves are changing, along with the nature of the infusion. It becomes more robust, but it retains all the traditional characteristics of Darjeeling. The taste is a full-bodied, with a distinctive nutmeg note. The third collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
The last collection, "Autumnal", is October - November. The infusion obtained from the leaves of the autumn collection, has a unique characteristic, the leaves are a light-copper color and has a somewhat milder taste. 
All this together ensures the highest quality of the famous Darjeeling. Because of its exclusivity and small production volumes, forgery of this tea was very popular. It is a big problem for world trade, the number of Darjeeling sold each year is more than 45 thousand tons, despite the fact that its official production is only about 11-12 thousand tons. The falsification and blending of tea has led to a drop in prices for real Darjeeling, resulting in considerable losses for the Indian economy. To prevent further tampering, the Tea Board of India jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Association have agreed that only 86 tea plantations, with special certificates, will be entitled to call their tea "Darjeeling".