How To Brew Oolong Tea

Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

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Oolong tea is often described as being between green tea and black tea, so it makes sense that steeping techniques usually fall somewhere in the middle, too. This is also a wonderful tea for re-steeping, and you can discover new aromas and flavors with each new infusion.

The Tea

This tutorial is for oolong tea. (For a description of different varieties of oolong tea, see What You Should Know About Oolong Tea.) Because oolong tea comes in different oxidation levels and leaf shapes, there is no one-size-fits-all method for steeping. Consider this a starting point, and then follow your own taste buds.

Oolong tea is often steeped in an Asian-style gaiwan or a clay Yixing teapot. These small-capacity vessels require a large volume of tea leaves and multiple short steeping times. This style is worth exploring if you are particularly interested in Chinese teas. However, oolong tea can also be steeped Western-style, using any teapot that you already have. That is the method we are focusing on here.

As a general rule of thumb, for 6 ounces of water, use 1 teaspoon if the tea is rolled into balls and up to 2 tablespoons if it consists of large open leaves.

The Water

The water you use is perhaps just as important as the tea. Whether it's tap, filtered, or spring water, it should taste good. Avoid distilled water, which can taste flat. Start with fresh, cold water that has not been previously boiled.

As a general rule of thumb, let the water heat to 180°F to 200°F, which you can measure using a thermometer, or simply eyeball it.

The Steeping Time

As a general rule of thumb, steep the tea from 1 to 5 minutes.

The exact amount of time will depend on the particular tea, the size and shape of the leaves, and your personal preference. Leaf-style oolong teas typically infuse more quickly than ball- or rolled-style oolong teas. You may wish to taste the tea at the 1-minute mark and then every 30 seconds.

Infusers and Strainers

Keep in mind that you want room for the leaves to unfold and release their flavors. A basket-style infuser or filter (made of glass, metal, or cloth) is preferable to the ball-style of infuser. You can also brew the tea leaves directly in the pot or cup and strain them out as you pour.

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How To Brew Oolong Tea

Makes 1 cup (multiply as desired)

What You Need

Ingredients
6 ounces water, plus more if pre-warming the pot or cup
1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons oolong tea (less for rolled-style tea, more for leaf-style tea)

Equipment

Kettle to boil water
Thermometer (optional)
Teapot or cup
Measuring spoon
Filter or strainer
Timer
Tea cup for serving

Instructions

  1. Heat the water: Place the water in a tea kettle and heat it to 180°F to 200°F. Alternatively, bring the water to a boil and then let it rest until it cools to the correct temperature. If you do not have a thermometer to measure the specific temperature, bring the water to a boil and then let it rest for 2 minutes.
  2. Pre-warm the teapot or cup (optional): Pour a small amount of boiling water into the pot or cup. When the pot or cup is warm, pour out the water.
  3. Measure the tea leaves: Measure between 1 teaspoon and 2 tablespoons of oolong tea. Use less if the tea is rolled into balls and more if the tea consists of large, open leaves.
  4. Place the leaves in the teapot or cup:

    Place the tea leaves in the pot or cup, either directly or in an infuser.

  5. Pour the water: Pour the water over the tea leaves.
  6. Cover the teapot or cup: Place the lid on the teapot, or if using a cup, cover it with a lid or a small saucer.
  7. Steep the tea: Depending on the particular variety and personal preference, the tea may steep between 1 to 5 minutes. Leaf-style tea generally infuses more quickly than rolled-style tea. Set a timer for 1 minute. Taste the tea at 1 minute and then every 30 seconds until it is to your liking.
  8. Stop the infusion: As soon as the tea is ready, remove the leaves by lifting out the infuser or pouring the tea through a strainer.

Recipe Notes

  • Reusing tea leaves: Oolong tea is traditionally steeped multiple times, producing new flavors with each subsequent brew. You can generally reuse the leaves 2 or 3 times if you are using a larger capacity teapot and up to 5 times if you are using a smaller capacity teapot.

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(Image credits: Emily Ho)