How To Brew Oolong Tea
In many tea-producing countries and regions where tea culture forms an important part of their traditions, the enjoyment of tea is intrinsically linked to the beauty of its preparation. Slowing down and taking the time to savour the art of brewing is as important as the drinking of the tea itself. The way we enjoy tea is very personal; we may all have preferences about what teapot and cup we like to use, the setting in which we take the time to prepare it, and the perfect brew is different for everyone. However, even with this in mind, it can be useful to follow some guidelines to help get the most out of your tealeaves and to extract their fullest flavour.
Oolong is brewed as part of the tea ceremony in both China and Taiwan. The style of brewing in many Asian countries and within the tea ceremony is quite different to what we are used to in Western countries. A small teapot are used, such as a gaiwan or Yixing pot, and a large amount of tealeaves are brewed to yield lots of short infusions. In the West, we use large teapots and infuse the tea for a longer period of time, giving less infusions. The volume of water and temperature need to be adjusted depending on which brewing method you decide to use.
Preheat the teaware
Prepare your teaware by pouring hot water into the teapot and cups. This keeps your tea hot for longer, which is helpful for when you are brewing teas at a lower temperature, such as greens and oolongs.
Measure out the tea
If you are brewing Western style, you can use around 3 grams of tea for every 200ml of water. This is about one teaspoon for balled oolongs, and a tablespoon for large-leaf oolongs such as Pouchong or Oriental Beauty. If you are using a large teapot that holds 400ml of water, you will need 6 grams of tea. If you are brewing Gong Fu style, you will need a much larger quantity of leaf - around 5 or 6 grams for a small pot.
Rinse the leaves
When brewing balled oolongs, it is best to ‘rinse’ the tealeaves in hot water before the first infusion. This allows the leaves to begin to open up release their aroma. After measuring the tea into your teapot, add enough hot water (around 85 degrees) to just cover the leaves, and then pour this water away immediately. The leaves will start to start to loosen from their tight ball shape. This step is not necessary for open leaf oolongs.
Brew Western style
In general if you are brewing a dark oolong that has been heavily oxidised or roasted, it should be brewed at a higher temperature, around 90 or 95 degrees. This helps to extract the deep, full-bodied flavour. Green oolongs can be brewed at a slightly lower temperature, around 80-85 degrees. This is referred to in some cultures as “string of pearls” water, when small bubbles start to appear as the water is heating before it has reached boiling point. Alternatively you can boil the water and pour it into a pitcher to let it cool for a few minutes.
Brew the tea for around 3 minutes, and re-brew up to 3 or 4 times. You can increase the water temperature or increase the brewing time with each steep, depending on your taste.
Brew Gong Fu style
Use boiling water, and steep for around 30 seconds to one minute. You can re-brew the leaves 6-8 times when brewing in this way. Each infusion will give you a unique flavour profile.