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!

Great Tips For Preparing The Perfect Cup Of Tea

by Elena Popec 29. March 2010 21:46

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!

 

 

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