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!

Top 10 Reasons to Drink Loose Leaf Green Tea

Is there even an argument of loose leaf over using tea bags? Loose leaf tea has been left in its natural state and the brewing of it brings out the flavor of the tea. It’s not really a contest over flavorless tea bags.

The Benefits

And green tea is delicious; it has a sweet, natural flavor. It can be paired with certain fruits or sometimes spices or nuts to complement its flavor. Beyond being completely delicious, green tea is a healthy choice.

Energy Boost

Green tea has just enough caffeine to give you energy, but doesn’t lead to the crash effect that coffee or espresso can give. The way caffeine is released from tea is in such a way that regulates how the caffeine is released, due to a compound that exists in the tea itself.

Stress Relief

Green tea also reduces stress. There are compounds that occur naturally in tea leaves that have a calming effect, which decreases the stress response in your body. Try brewing some green tea when you’re worried or stressed.

Weight Loss

Research has also shown that tea may help speed up the metabolism. This would help people who are trying to lose weight. Newer studies have found catechins in tea which help reduce fat in the abdomen. Catechins are found in weight loss supplements, but why take those when you can drink brewed, naturally occurring tea leaves?

Healthy Teeth

This tea has also been proven to fight off cavities. It reduces gingivitis and it reduces the bacteria in the mouth. The tea leaf has fluoride which occurs naturally, and is a substance that helps build up strength and health in teeth. Green tea also destroys the bacterium that causes strep throat.


Green tea helps ward off many viruses and sicknesses. It has the most antioxidants among the four types of teas, and also has naturally occurring polyphenols, catechins, and many other naturally occurring compounds which increase immunity in the body.


It also helps reduce inflammation. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties which are natural. It’s a better choice than taking even over the counter chemical compounds.

Lowers Cholesterol

Another benefit of green tea is that it can reduce cholesterol. Studies have shown that consuming green tea regularly can reduce levels of the “bad cholesterol” while increasing “good” cholesterol.

Helps Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease

And green tea also helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia. Research shows that green tea can help improve memory related learning and have also been shown to help reverse mental deterioration.

Fights Cancer

Green tea may also protect against cancer, and it possibly kills off existing cancer as well. Research has shown that drinking between four and eight cups of green tea every day can really help when fighting off these diseases.

It’s Magic

Beyond all this, remember that green tea is also delicious. The most benefit of course comes from high quality loose leaf tea. These have less caffeine and more antioxidants. It doesn’t even seem like that difficult of a choice. The loose leaves can be brewed again to make three to six cups of tea. It’s affordable, delicious, and helps with everything from maintaining healthy weight and teeth to fighting off infections, preventing cancer, and even reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Green tea truly seems like a magical elixir.

The Mystery Of Oolong


Chinese Wū long or Oolong is a type of tea located between green and black in the Chinese classification. In other words, Oolong is half-fermented tea. Oxidation ranges from 20% to 40%, and the most characteristic feature of this tea is that the leaves are fermented unevenly. Along the edges of the tea leaf fermentation can be quite astringent, almost like black tea with well pronounced reddish rim around a leaf but in the center of leaf fermentation, is very weak, close to green teas. As a result, Oolongs have a wonderful aroma and taste that combines the freshness of green tea and tartness of black tea.

Oolong combines the best qualities of both green and black teas. Some highly fermented Oolongs give a fairly dark brown-reddish infusion. However, such Oolongs constitute only a small share of the vast diversity of this type of tea. Basic and famous Oolongs have a gentle light yellowish or greenish tinge honey extract. By appearance of the infusion, they are closer to green teas and by taste - to black teas. A good Oolong is both refreshing and delicious with no trace of bitterness and stronger aroma than any green or black teas. Oolong is a well known type of Chinese tea used in ceremonies. A widely-used ceremonial method of brewing Oolongs in Taiwan and China is called Gongfu Cha. For a complete appreciation of the taste of this tea, tea pairing is recommended: tea bowl and snifter cup used to appreciate the tea's aroma. Tea poured into a snifter cup and a drinking bowl is placed upside down over the top of the snifter cup. Then the two are inverted so that the snifter cup is upside down in the drinking bowl. The final stage is when the snifter cup is lifted and the tea is released into the drinking bowl. After all this manipulations, tea drinkers can respectfully receive the aroma and then enjoy the taste.
There are two main types of Oolong that are grown and harvested in China and Taiwan, the mainland and island tea. The next classification is the type of traditional treatment and characteristics of climate and soil. Oolongs grow high in the mountains, shrouded in fog, on the poor stony soils. The quality of tea depends on the orientation of the slope, the number of fogs during the growth and professionalism of collectors, who manually collect and sort out the tea leaves in difficult mountain conditions.  
Oolong often resembles the form of twisted lumps consisting of strongly folded and compressed whole leaves. When touched, the lumps are elastic and dense. Fresh tea should be slightly shiny and have a strong fragrant. During the brewing process, the tea leaves unfold, expend and consume the entire volume of the teapot when steeped 2-3 times. Usually, Oolong brewed with water temperature of 176-194º F for 3-4 minutes. A teapot 150 ml takes about one heaped teaspoon. Expensive Oolongs can withstand multiple infusions up to 20-25 times. The fragrance of tea can vary from delicate peach tones to astringent walnut, with a corresponding color change of infusions darker with each subsequent brewing. There are varieties of oolong that color does not change and remains yellow-green, while others, originally given infusions of intense color give a pale infusion each subsequent brewing.

Oolong tea is the most diverse among Chinese teas in terms of taste and appearance . Oolong is tea-perfection conceived by Heaven and Earth. 

Great Tips For Preparing The Perfect Cup Of Tea

There are numerous methods for brewing tea leaves. In Japanese tea ceremonies, powdered tea is whisked into green foam, in Mongolian, they reduced tea leaves dust by boiling with salted milk…Western tea lovers follow the Chinese way of brewing tea leaves in hot water. This way seems very simple, but there are several essential tips that are critical to a good cup of tea.

1. Make sure you use good quality cold water
2. Your kettle and teapot need to be clean
3. Use the correct amount of tea leaves
4. Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
5. Make sure tea is steeped for the right length of time
6. Use proper storage for tea leaves

Use good quality cold water

Water that is used to make tea has a large influence on the tea taste. Water composition, chalk content, mineral content and hardness differ from region to region and influence the taste experience, greatly. For the best taste results, use good-tasting water.  Only use fresh water which was not already cooked previously. Bottled spring or filtered waters are ideal for this purpose, find the kind you like. If using tap water, make sure it runs for couple minutes before poured in the kettle. Tap water lacks oxygen when it sits in water pipes for hours. Do not use distilled water.
Kettle and teapot need to be clean
Tea should always be prepared in a specific container, such as a teapot made out of glass or ceramics. Always preheat your porcelain, ceramics or glass with hot water. The best water and the finest tea can be easily destroyed if the kettle or teapot is not clean. A brownish residue on the inside of teapot builds up after every brewing and needs to be taken care of; otherwise it will add a bitter taste to freshly brewed tea. So, just rinsing a teapot does not take care of the problem. Use a small amount of detergent while washing and wipe out the inside with soft cloth or sponge. Make sure the teapot is rinsed off thoroughly after washing, otherwise you may add extra “flavor” to the delicate bouquet of brewing tea leaves. Even the kettle is used only to boil water; it needs to be washed occasionally due to mineral deposits build up. Iron teapots are especially suitable for green tea and oolong tea. In Japan, these pots are only used to keep the water hot for the tea ceremony. For Europeans, the Japanese have enameled the pots on the inside so that they can be used to brew tea. Iron pots are very stylish and are almost indestructible.

Use the correct amount of tea leaves
I have the easiest solution – read suggested instruction but if you like to experiment, here are some general tips to follow:

1. Use a tea measuring spoon. The decorative tea measuring spoons are available in many different forms and decors and determine the amount of tea needed for one cup. Particularly the longer spoons represent a good aid to reach the tea in the deep tea tins.
2. Use one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per each serving (6oz cup), 1-2 level teaspoon of herb blends and Rooibos, one heaped teaspoon of fruit blends;
3. After the amount of tea leaves is measured and placed in the teapot, add hot water;
4. Use tea strainers or tea filters while steeping. It will allow removing tea leaves easily when brewing process is done.

Use the correct amount of water at proper temperature
Each tea variety requires its unique treatment with respect to brewing. Most tea companies provide a suggested instruction on the package that refers to cup of tea being 6oz. The temperature of water varies depending on type of tea. Suitable thermometers for taking the appropriate water temperature are available.

1. Black and Oolong Tea requires fully boiling water 203-212 F;
2. Green and White Tea steeps best at 176-194 F, first stage of boiling also called “string of pearls”, when small air bubbles rising to the surface and water is starting to steam.

Right temperature will allow the delicate bouquet of tea composition to unfold fully, presenting its aroma.

Tea should be steeped for the correct length of time
The length of time depends on specifics of brewing leaves which need adequate time to open. White and Green tea requires 2 to 3 minutes due to being unfermented. Infuse the tea and let sit for 2 minutes. Many green tea drinkers also start by infusing half a cup of green tea with hot water for one minute before sieving it. Then the same tea is brewed again. This way, many of the bitter substances are eliminated.

Fully fermented black tea steeps longer 4 to 5 minutes. Pour the bubbly-hot water over the tea and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Note: 3 minutes for an energizing result and up to 5 minutes (and a little less tea) for a more calming effect. Stir the infusion once and then pour it over a sieve or tea filter. The brewing time also depends on the size of leaf, the bigger the leaf the longer infusion time. Do not let tea brew too long, otherwise it will become bitter and taste will suffer.
When it comes to fruit, herb and Rooibos tea, you do not have to worry. Due to being naturally decaffeinated, these tisanes need about 10 minutes on average to brew and will not go bitter.

There is a "Perfect Tea Hourglass" available to keep to correct time.

Proper storage for tea leaves

As all products, tea leaves have an expiration date. Although each type of tea has a different shelf life, it’s best to use tea within six month since day of purchase. Green and white tea is the most perishable due to short fermentation process. These types of tea need to be consumed in year of harvest. Black and Oolong retain their properties for several years. Pu-Erh gets only better with time. However, tea should be kept away from heat, moisture and sunlight. In order to preserve freshness tea should be stored in cool, dry, dark place in tea tin or ceramic container. Tins in various sizes are ideal for the storage of loose tea. The sensitive teas are well-protected against smell and light effects. The market offers many different decors that fit each tea character.

Now, when you know all the tricks, let Tea Party begin!



The History Of Tea From India

India Black Tea

Tea consumption in India has a long history, South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage. Although commercially, tea is being cultivated in India is relatively recently - within the second half of the 19th century. However, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north and north-eastern regions of country, tea trees grew before the arrival of the British. For centuries, tea has not been cultivated but only gathered from wild trees. There is a legend that British merchants transported a few tea bushes from China and planted them in the plains of India, by the time they occupied and colonized by Britain. From those few bushes, started a global cultivation of tea in India and Ceylon. It happened in the thirties of the 19th century when the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea that constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain. After the first successful experience in 1863, the British East India Company brought to India a large batch of germs and after 10 years of hard work, the tea plantations give the first crop. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin but by 1900, this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in India and Ceylon. Success has created several companies, many of which still sell tea and are known throughout the world. India's success on the international market is mainly due to accommodating the special English taste for strong tea, adequate for chalky water.

High quality tea in India is growing on mountain slopes which are very steep (up to 70 degrees). Plantations are located on terraces which rings encircle the mountain slopes. These high quality grades of tea gather exclusively by women and only manually. The tea plucking process takes place usually at the break of dawn. Manufacturers are trying to make tea of the highest class, twisted leaf tea and no broken leaves.

There are two main areas of growth of Indian tea: Darjeeling and Assam. Important cultivation areas are, apart from Darjeeling and Assam:

Dooars - west of Assam, mainly production of CTC teas.

Nilgiri - South Indian tea district, fresh teas, similar to those of Sri Lanka

Sikkim - north east of Darjeeling, high-quality teas

Terrai - south of Darjeeling, similar to Darjeeling, somewhat more herb in taste.

India Tea Plantation

Today India is the second largest producer of quality black tea and the first one of the middle and low-grade "bulk" teas, CTC. A large portion of this "simple" tea stays in the country; locals are very fond of drinking tea (a modest 750 grams per person a year), it is quite different in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Although these countries are close neighbors, the locals hardly drink tea, and the entire Ceylon crop is exported.  A small proportion of green teas are produced in India as well and mainly for Japan that buys simpler varieties to add them to their own production.

Assam is a tea district in Northern India across the Brahmaputra. It is the largest connected tea growing region in the world. The plateau with highly arable rainforest soil contains a lot of humidity due to the prevailing monsoon winds. The local climatic conditions, especially rainfall, create a greenhouse effect which positively affects the quality of tea leaf. Tea plants are cultivated in tea gardens on large cultivatable land of up to 1,000 hectares. There are about 2,000 plantations in Assam. Assam tea is generally heavy and spicy, dark in the cup. It is the main component of the classical English and East Frisian blends which are prepared for water with high chalk contents and are usually drunk with milk and sugar. Since the appearance of the young tea traders on the international market, especially from Africa, Assam was largely driven out of this market by the cheaper tea varieties.
Harvesting Periods

Mid April to Late May: First Flush. These qualities are of rather little economic significance for the European or US market. These teas are mostly aromatically fresh, light and of rather tart character. For this reason they do not meet the traditional Assam features.

Early June/Mid August: Second Flush. The second flush, harvested in June/August, before the large monsoon rain starts, is highly demanded. Assam teas from the second plucking period are of greater relevance in terms of quality and the export business. These qualities are often very “colored” in tips, with a pouring that is mostly very dark and has a typical strong, full-spicy and malty character.
The oldest tea gardens in Assam were founded in 1832-33 by English trade agencies. In 1839, the first Assam tea appeared in a London action. The Assam region is bordered by China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. Assam is one of the most beautiful places in the world and in all respects, is one of the best places for the cultivation of black tea.

Darjeeling is a region in the North-Eastern India, located at the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. Darjeeling is the most famous tea region of India. Tea gardens are located at altitudes of up to 2,600 meters above sea level on an area of 20 thousand hectares and produce the most exquisite types in the world. Darjeeling borders with China and Bhutan. The special microclimate of the region is ideal for growing elite types of tea also called “champagne of tea”. Black Orthodox tea from Darjeeling (Indians pronounce the name with the accent on the second syllable) are considered one of the most delicate and fragrant teas in the world, competing with the best Chinese varieties and very often surpassing them. The unique taste of tea from Darjeeling is highly valued by tea lovers and experienced connoisseurs. The best tea grows in the coldest part of the terrain, at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The color of the infusion is deep burgundy with a green tint.
Harvesting Periods

March-May: First Flush is in March, as soon as the weather is good after the end of the vegetation break, the first soft leaves and buds of the first period are plucked. The characteristics of a good F.F. Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color of the infusion. This tea is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent charges from the same plantation.

May-June: In between crop – the qualified “trailer” of the first flush season does have a particular connection with the first touches of the second flush period. 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-quality. Due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.

June-July: Second Flush. The summer crop is the summit in a crop year. The tea leaves develop more aroma by the longer exposure to sun. The most important quality features of a classical S.F. tea are dark brown leafs with golden tips and the color of infusion is soft amber. Taste is full-bodied with a distinctive nutmeg note. The second collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.

October-November: Autumnal crop. After another period of rain in late summer and until the vegetation lull in November, fully aromatic but somewhat mild teas are plucked.

Nilgiri is one of the major tea regions of India, located in the south of the country, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The tea gardens in Nilgiri are small compared to plantations in Assam. Tea in Nilgiri is cultivated on altitudes between 800-2,000 meters above the sea level. Tea plantations are surrounded by snow-covered mountains and luxuriant growing jungle. In 1840, the first tea seedlings had been planted, thanks to good climatic conditions, the seedlings became well acclimated and the basis for future plantations.
Nilgiri takes second place in India in volume of black tea production. Frequent monsoon rains, high average annual temperatures, allow the great cultivation of tea all year. Tea gathers unite in Nilgiri twice a year:  in spring (April-May) and second flush in autumn (September-December), the best being the spring collection. The Nilgiri tea is a main component of so-called English blend. The tea of these regions is full-bodied, with a bright infusion, mild taste and can be distinguished by a fresh citrus scent which is reminiscent of the Ceylon high-growns.

Black Tea

Most of the Indian tea is used for mixtures or blends. Different companies make a blend for a large consignment of tea, which is then packaged and sent to consumers. Naturally, the composition of blends from time to time changes, so there is a practice such as a sampling of tea. Similar to the in the selection of wine, tasting is needed prior to purchase of product in order to understand which tea is the best. There are companies (mostly British) that have their own tea testers in the tea factories located in India, whose main task is to monitor the quality and stability of tea taste, regardless of the crop. To do such, they select from several tea plantations and make trial blends, the best of them becomes a model for the party. There are four varieties of Indian tea that is sold unblended: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri (also used in blends) and Sikkim. Sikkim Tea is a new variety introduced in late 1980, but has already won the position on the market of tea. This delicious and sweet tea is reminiscent to the taste of Darjeeling tea and Assamese tea aroma. One can say that it occupies an intermediate position between these two titans.

Black tea from India can be brewed in several ways. Brewing methods of tea depends on its type and grade. Chinese method: more loose leaf tea leaves and less time of brewing, English method: 1 tsp of tea leaves per 6oz cup and a long (3-5 minutes) brewing process, or Indian method: very strong tea infusion, hot milk and a lot of sugar. All three methods have their unique characteristics, and each way is good for its type of tea.  The Chinese way is suitable for any Indian tea, but best of all, it reveals aromas of delicate high grade tea varieties such as teas Darjeeling. The English method does not allow steeping the tea more than twice. If you prefer to drink tea, as it is loved in England, with milk or cream, then pour the cream into a cup prior to the tea slightly heated. Fine broken leaf grades are very popular in India, where English tradition of drinking tea with milk has spread in a transformed way. Brewing using the Indian style is a very intense brewing method. Tea leaves are steeped with hot milk, water and a lot of sugar. Then the infusion is poured from one tall glass into another to create the appearance of abundant foam. This very thick drink, with a nice color, can hardly be called tea; however, the Indians are very fond of it and consumed in large quantities. This method is also used to prepare a strong tea with milk and spices called Masala Chai. Some of the chai masala spice mixtures are still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.

ESP Emporium
offers an amazing selection of black tea – the most popular drink in the world. Vast selection of high quality tea from India presents all the most magnificent types from Darjeeling and Assam, First and Second Flush, pure and blended. Worth to give it a try!