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!

Loose Tea vs. Tea Bag

by Steven Popec 20. January 2010 06:34

The first thing that many people do in the morning is grab a tea bag for a quick cup of tea.  In contrast, true tea lovers brew their tea from loose leaves.  Those who are still using tea bags are not only missing out on superior taste, they are missing out on the health benefits of using loose leaf tea in every cup.

People who use tea bags often use it for convenience to enjoy at the office or even in the comfort of their home. However, loose leaf tea is far more superior when it comes to taste than tea bags because the tea leaves are not constrained by paper.

Another major drawback of tea bags is that it tends to stale faster than loose leaves because it has smaller particles.  Loose teas have more variants which can be brewed differently and it can be blended at your desired taste level. Tea bags, on the other hand, are pre-blended for a specific flavor. Loose teas can give you the purest of flavors for each variety, blended for your own preferences.

When it comes to brewing a nice warm pot of tea, there is a lot of argument over whether or not to use loose tea or a tea bag. Just about any tea expert will tell you that there is simply no better alternative than loose tea – as it just tastes better. So, if you truly want to experience a heavenly cup of your favorite tea, then loose leaves are the way to go.

Benefits of Using Loose Leaf Tea

Another reason why loose leaf tea is superior to tea bags is because you receive the “entire” leaf.  The leaves that are placed into tea bags are simply tea dust and particles left over after the picking and processing of tea leaves.  When you use a tea bag, you lack the essential oils that are present in loose leaves.  

Loose Leaf Tea is Cost Effective

Loose leaf teas can actually save you more money than tea bags.  When using a high-quality tea bag, it cost around 20 to 70 more for a tea bag. Brewing from quality loose leaves can cost around 5 cents per cup because it can be re-used up to 4 times before it loses flavor.

The Convenience of Using Loose Leaf Tea

Some people will argue that they don’t have time to brew loose leaves. There are several devices that you can use to save you time when preparing loose leaf teas. 

For example, you can use brewing baskets that can easily fit a tea pot or cup or pot to save time.

As you can see, the advantages of using loose leaf tea outweigh the any advantages of using a tea bag. So, try a cup of loose leaf tea today and discover its superior quality!

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