If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve never tasted Oolong tea, but you’re interested in trying it out. Well, let’s be completely honest; it is incredibly difficult to explain and describe the taste of Oolong tea to someone who has never tried it. Imagine trying to describe what salt tastes like to someone who has never had it. It’s hard, right? However, we believe that some foods and drinks are definitely worthy of trying to use words to describe what they taste like, just like this incredible tea is. See; we’ve used the word incredible in the previous sentence, but that doesn’t have to mean anything to you, yet. Therefore, let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of Oolong tea and try to explain what gives the tea the flavor, and what that flavor is like.
About Oolong Tea
Teas are usually differentiated and characterized in regards to their oxidization process; a process which is partially responsible for taste, aroma, and color of the tea. For example, green tea goes through a drying stage where the oxidization is supposed to be put on halt in order for it to retain the green and leafy appearance and wonderful, light aroma. Black tea, on the other hand, is left to fully oxidize in order for it to have a darker color and a deeper flavor.
Now, Oolong tea falls somewhere between green and black tea. Oolong tea is actually partially oxidized but shares some of the components and characteristics of both green and black tea. Therefore, Oolong tea is usually described as the most complex tea variety, usually because its processing requires more effort. If you’ve never tried Oolong tea, then you probably don’t know what processing we’re talking about; processing refers to the tea leaves and their appearance. Oolong tea is also known as the Black Dragon. The name ‘oolong’ (Chinese pronunciation is ‘wu-long’) actually means ‘black dragon’; the name is a reference to this tea’s appearance. Oolong leaves are traditionally curled, twisted or balled, and have a slight grey-green or blue-green hue. The long, twisted shape actually reminds of a dragon, hence the name.
When it comes to Oolong tea, not only is it complex in processing and taste but also come is a huge range of different types. There are dozens of different Oolong teas based on their oxidization levels, ranging anywhere between 5 percent and 80 percent oxidization. Oolong teas can be re-steeped up to eight times, which is one of their most notable characteristics; this also puts them higher on the price list, as they can be costlier than the traditional teas, like black or green. It is believed that the best Oolong teas come from Taiwan, so if you’re about to try one, make sure it is the real OG of the Oolong teas.
So, how does Oolong tea taste like?
Generally speaking, if someone’s to describe the taste of Oolong tea, it would be something like this; fragrant tea that usually has a nice and sweet aftertaste. This, however, doesn’t even come close to the actual taste of Oolong tea. There is no universal taste of the Oolong tea; the taste varies with different types of Oolong teas and it definitely depends on the levels of oxidization of the tea.
Taiwanese Oolong Tea
Let’s take the traditional Taiwanese Oolong teas for example. Taiwanese Oolong teas are usually rolled and lighter in oxidization levels, often resembling green teas in taste and color. With these types of Oolongs, we could say that the taste is light, warm and usually carrying of a floral or fruity note and sweet aftertaste. There are also types of Taiwanese Oolongs that are more oxidized, and they taste completely different. The taste of these Oolongs resembles the taste of black tea, however, with a warmer tone and aroma that usually includes cinnamon, cocoa or roasted/dried fruit. Other, more oxidized Oolongs tend to taste like black tea, and usually leave a citrusy or bergamot aftertaste.
The taste of Taiwanese Oolong teas, however, does not only depend on the levels of oxidization, but also the season tea was picked. For example, if we’re talking about the spring pick, then you can expect the tea to have a more flowery and sweet taste, like the Emperor’s Delight Oolong tea does. Or, if we’re talking about the autumn pick, the tea will definitely have a more complex flowery taste and should be lighter in fragrance. One such tea is like the Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea, usually picked in Taiwan and China. Traditional Taiwanese Oolong is also known as the High Mountain Oolong. This specific type of Oolong has a fresh, however, slightly fruity and flowery fragrance and taste.
Chinese Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea
The Chinese Wuyi Oolong tea is one of the most famous teas in China. While Oolong tea still has to enter the mainstream tea market in the West, in the East it is already a star. This tea belongs to the Northern Fujian tea family and is also known as the Mingbei Oolong. Unlike the Taiwanese Oolong tea, this type of Oolong is curly and long. It also commonly has a bell-like shape and is roasted and heavily oxidized, unlike the previously mentioned Taiwanese Oolong.
When it comes to the taste of the Wuyi Oolong, it is important to mention that the tasting difference between different Wuyi Oolongs is really hard to notice. Wuyi yancha is the best-known variety of Wuyi Oolong, mostly because of its gentle, yet tingling taste and aftertaste. This type of Oolong is also known as the rock-type in China, referred to as yan yun. Yan Yun is translated as ‘rock- or cliff-rhyme’ and refers to the ‘rock’ and ‘floral’ aroma of the tea. This basically means that this tea has a meaty quality to it, carrying a heavier note, but also a richer and more flavorful aftertaste, which could resemble the aftertaste of dark chocolate or roasted fruits. To be more specific, for the beginners, this tea should have a fragrance of an orchid and a rock-like aftertaste, that is rather long-lasting.
In order to enjoy a good Wuyi yancha Oolong and experience all of its tastes, it is important to pay attention to balance. Balance, in this case, refers to the harmony between heavy flavors and drying sensation on one hand, and lighter flavors and cooling sensations on the other hand. For those who have never tried this tea, imagine striking a balance between a flower and a rock; that is basically the main principle and description of the Chinese yan yun.
More: A Complete List of Tea Flavors
Other Types of Oolongs
When it comes to other types of Oolong teas and their taste, we would point out the following ones;
- Dan Cong – this is a special type of Oolong tea, coming from the Guandong province in China. It is known for its 10 different aroma sub-varieties, all of which have fruity, floral or herbal aromas. The key with this type of Oolong lies in the fact that no additives or essential oils are added to create these aromas; everything, from the taste, color to fragrance and aroma comes from the leaves.
- Oriental Beauty – this type of Oolong tea comes from Hsinchu County in northern Taiwan. It is one of the most famous Oolongs in Taiwan, known for its high-quality and especially sweet taste. It has a recognizable honey-fruit aroma with a hint of spice, however, is completely additive-free and organically cultivated, harvested and processed.
- Milk Oolong Tea – this type of Oolong tea comes from the fields of Thailand and is known for its creamy, light and flowery flavor. This is also a so-called milky Oolong tea, characterized by buttery and creamy flavor which the leaves of the tea produce by themselves. The milk-like flavor comes to be as a result of a specific oxidization time, and not as a result of the tea being infused by milk, as many imagine is the case.
To experience Oolong tea for the first time is truly a blessing. The tea is so rich in flavor and completely mesmerizing in fragrance and aroma that only a few people in this world known how to truly appreciate. If you haven’t tried Oolong tea, it is high time you did so. Between the green and black teas, Oolong will probably be a lifechanging experience, and it will definitely raise the bar to what you considered good tea is. However, don’t be discouraged by its price; Oolong tea is worthy of every penny, as the taste, the flavor, and the aroma are unforgettable. We wish you a wonderful first-time Oolong experience, and may each new Oolong tasting be as good as the first one.