How oolong tea is made?

If you are new to the tea world, you might even ask “what the heck is oolong tea?”. Don’t worry, we all have been there. Let’s try to make it easier by bringing an example from the world of wine - there is white and red wine and in between there is rosé. Oolong is the “rosé” of teas. It is a semi-oxidized tea that stands somewhere in between green and black tea.

The birthplace of oolong tea is China, hence why you might have heard some of the terms like wulong, which in Chinese means “black dragon” or qingsha which is “dark green tea”. The Chinese term wulong was first used to describe a tea in 1857 by Shi Hongbao. In France, it can be called also thé bleu which means “blue tea”.  

Oolong tea is not one predefined taste profile 

We got to know oolong from our beloved tea guru from Nepal - Sonam. Back in 2018 he gave us the basic truths of tea making and helped us to start understanding the nature of Camellia Sinensis. With him, we also made our very first oolong tea.

Sonam explaining the differences of tea cultivars.

It was thanks to Sonam that we also understood that oolong tea is not one predefined taste profile like it is often told in the tea world. If you would like to read more about our tea lessons with Sonam, read the blog post from HERE.

The world of oolong teas is very wide - the range of tastes and aroma depends on the climate, soil and cultivars and also the style of production. On one side there are sweet and flowery greener oolongs and on the other end, bold and roasty oolong teas that are more on the black tea side.

The processes of making oolong tea

The first thing after plucking is always withering - to remove moisture from the leaves and to get the development of aroma and flavour compounds in the leaves going. There is no exact time for withering as there are several different factors that are dictating the desired time, like the weather on the plucking day, the quality of the leaf itself and also the characteristics of different recipes. It can take from a few hours to a whole day.

Tea leaves withering in the Renegade Tea Estate factory

During the withering process, some teas need to be “played” with. We toss the tea leaves on the bamboo trays to promote and fasten the oxidation process while bruising the leaves. Tossing helps to release the juices and enzymes that give specific characteristics to the tea.

After withering and tossing, the next step is either fixing or rolling. If we are making a greener oolong, fixing is the next step. It stops the oxidation process and locks the enzymes in the leaves. We use the tumbling method in our factory -  the machine looks like a tumble dryer, it rotates and tosses the leaves at a high temperature which helps to stop the ongoing processes in the leaves. Fixing also helps to keep the green colour of the tea.

Renegade Tea Estate, tea masters Hannes and Tomas

If we are making darker oolongs, we skip the fixing process and the leaves will go from withering straight to rolling. In the rolling process, the essential oils and juices will ooze out from the leaves, giving the taste characteristics to the tea. Besides getting the juices running, rolling also gives a certain look to the tea. You can see the rolling effect the best when you are steeping your tea - when the tea leaves will gracefully unroll themselves.

If we make a darker oolong, after the rolling process, the leaves will go to oxidize. The oxidation time reflects in the colour of the tea. The more it is oxidized, the darker the tea will be. Again, there is no exact time for the oxidation process, it depends on the certain recipe and the more it is oxidized the more on the black tea side it will be.

Some oolongs are roasted after the oxidation process. Roasting gives a more specific flavour to the tea and again, the time for that varies depending on the recipes. Some oolongs are not roasted, some are roasted for a few minutes, some for hours.

It is easy to screw up the recipe and to create something completely new

In between rolling, oxidizing and drying there might be some of the processes repeating themselves several times. If we miss some of the processes or forget to change the process on time, most likely we will get something totally new to our tea portfolio. 

The final process is always drying. Drying is necessary to get the humidity levels close to zero, to avoid tea getting ruined while storing it. If it happens that the tea goes to the package without drying or if the drying was insufficient, it might turn out that mould and some funguses take over the tea and this is something we cannot let happen :)

Something new in the world of tea - Georgian oolong teas

Prodigy Mesame, Renegade Tea Estate oolong

Oolong teas don’t actually have a place in the Georgian tea history (which was mainly focusing on mass production black teas, you can read a blog post about Georgian tea history HERE) and this is rather new in the tea world. Our plantations contain a countless amount of different cultivars of Camellia sinensis which sometimes challenges Hannes and Tomas (our tea masters) to get all the leaves processed evenly. Even though it makes the tea making trickier, it also gives more uniqueness to the Georgian teas. We do believe that Georgian oolong tea should be on the map and we will be working on it - to improve our current recipes and experiment on some new ones :)

Go to our e-shop to see the selection of Renegade Tea Estate oolong teas.

Written by Hanna