Our guide to Oolong

Oolong tea was one of the first teas to really blow my mind.

I clearly remember a pot of Tie Guan Yin oolong in the lobby of a hotel in Xiamen back in the late 1990s. It cost $50 and I couldn’t get my head around that.

How could a pot of tea cost $50?

And this was over 20 years ago. It was bought for me by a client (in my life before I became the Rare Tea Lady) and made for me by a skilled waitress at our table. She carefully infused the tea from a Gaiwan teapot into a jug for us to pour into tiny cups, not much bigger than thimbles.

It was a revelation. I fell deeply, completely for the Iron Goddess of Mercy (as Tie Guan Yin is also known). We drank 6 infusions from the same leaf and every time hot water hit those lovely leaves new subtleties of flavour were revealed. The waitress returned as we finished each jug and re-infused the leaves, then carefully decanted the tea into the jug for us the enjoy.

I have been used to dunking an industrial tea bag once in a mug, then binning it - not incredible oolong loose leaf tea that kept on giving and giving. I was mesmerized by everything from the beautiful tea ware, to the artistry of the infusing, to the flavour. To this day I am still amazed by the extraordinary layers of oolong tea flavour revealed in every pot.

What does oolong tea taste like?

The taste of oolong tea really depends on the type of oolong you use. Just as it would be hard to explain what white wine tastes like, there is not one flavour profile for all oolong. Each beautifully crafted oolong tea is incredibly complex, changing and developing with every steep. Oolong teas lie artfully between green tea and black tea. The leaves have been partially oxidised. How much oxidisation significantly changes the flavour profile. Another defining factor is the expertise of the artisan crafting the oolong, alongside the terroir, varietal and pick.

A lightly oxidised Tie Guan Yin oolong

A more heavily oxidised Da Hong Pao

Lighter Tasting Oolong Teas

If you prefer lighter, green tea flavours try the the less oxidised yellow gold oolongs. You will enjoy our Iron Goddess Tie Guan Yin oolong or Golden Lily Milk oolong. These oolong teas are brighter, fruiter and have more green notes.

Darker Tasting Oolong Teas

If you are looking for an oolong flavour that is deep, rich and malty the more oxidised oolongs are for you:Sunset oolong, Da Hong Pao oolong or Waikato oolongs. The flavour notes are far more biscuity with rich caramels. Unlike black tea, however, these oolongs are low in tannins and bitter compounds. The flavours of dark oolongs are much smoother are rounder than black tea.

How to Brew Oolong Tea

I recommend infusing oolong quickly - with a lot of leaf and a small amount of water, in a Gaiwan teapot. You can then extract many infusions from those same leaves, putting fresh water into your pot up to seven times. Here is a short film explaining how. You can, of course, infuse it in a normal teapot too, and it will be every bit as delicious.

Is Oolong Tea More Expensive?

When you look at the price of our loose leaf oolong tea, please remember that it really can be infused six times, so you get pots and pots of flavour out of a few grams. What looks and tastes like luxury tea is actually very affordable - especially when you compare it to the cost of a glass of wine or a high street coffee.

The Best Type of Oolong Tea

I strongly advocate that you only drink loose leaf oolong tea.

These beautifully crafted leaves really need space to unfurl as they infuse. One small teaspoon of dry leaf will rehydrate to become a large handful of wet leaf once you brew it. There is no way the flavours can be extracted fully if the leaves are restricted within a teabag. Oolong tea in a teabag, whatever its shape or material, won't taste as good as a loose leaf oolong infused in a teapot.

Health Benefits of Oolong Tea

People often ask me – what is oolong tea good for? Is oolong tea good for you? Can oolong tea be used for weight loss?

Yes, oolong tea has many health benefits. Oolong comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant, rich in antioxidants. But if you are looking for tea that is truly good for your health, my answer is always the same:

Choose pure loose leaf tea, grown sustainably without pesticides or herbicides (have a look here at our approach to organic tea) and crafted by skilled men for flavour. Don’t choose tea made for the lowest price and processed by industrial machines. Beautifully grown and crafted tea is always going to taste better, be better for the environment and better for you.

Real tea, crafted by real people

Can You Drink Oolong Tea Everyday?

Yes, absolutely you can drink oolong tea every day, to your heart's content. Oolong tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, like all true teas - and it’s every bit as good for you.

Is Oolong tea high in caffeine?

Oolong tea may be a later pick than most teas, and leaving the leaf on the bush for a longer period increases its caffeine content. So the caffeine in oolong tea might be higher, which is one of the reasons I prefer several quick infusions, spacing out the caffeine in my tea. The flavour gets better and better. And those six infusions that I enjoy through an afternoon keep me topped up beautifully. I actually drink less caffeine in this way, than if I had several cups of tea using fresh tea leaves each time.

Does oolong Tea help you loose weight?

There are a lot of claims that oolong tea helps you lose weight. The only scientific research I have found related to oolong tea and weight loss suggests that possibly higher caffeine levels may help speed up metabolism, but that's it. If anyone tells you anything else, I would ask for some research data to back up their claims. Don’t even get me started on detox tea.

Should You Put Milk in Oolong Tea?

There is a type of tea called Milk Oolong which comes from a specific variety of tea from Taiwan. It is crafted in a very special way with incredible expertise to reveal the flavours and aromas of hot milk when you brew this wonderful oolong tea. It is completely natural. No flavourings or milk powders are added to the tea.

Nothing is added to good milk oolongs and definitely not in OUR Golden Lily Milk Oolong. But there are definitely many on the market that bypass the skill and purity of truly great tea, that do use flavourings and additives. I would recommend choosing your oolong very carefully. If you want to put milk in your oolong, that’s up to you. Milk is not added traditionally, but anything goes if it makes you happy. What I wouldn't recommend is buying any oolong tea with milk powders added.

All the best,

Image Henrietta Lovell
Rare Tea Lady
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Since 2000 Henrietta has been travelling the world, working directly with independent tea gardens, from the Shire Highlands of Malawi to the foothills of the Himalayas. Lovell is at the forefront of the tea revolution. She founded Rare Tea Company in 2004 to champion responsible and ethical relationships direct with farmers. In 2016 she founded Rare Charity pledging a direct percentage of Rare Tea revenue to their partner farms, supporting tertiary education scholarships. In 2019 Faber & Faber published her first book – "Infused - Adventures in Tea", named the New York Times book of the year and was awarded the prestigious Fortnum & Mason award. She is currently working on a documentary series.