Sipping a steaming cup of oolong tea is a tea lover’s dream!
Oolong tea fits in somewhere between black tea and green tea in the tea spectrum. This gives it a range of liquor colors from bright green to yellow, and even reddish, orange, or amber.
The color depends on the processes that are used to produce the tea. The more oxidized the leaves are, the darker the color will be. This will also affect the aroma and flavor.
Tea aficionados will tell you that oolong tea is neither black tea nor green tea. So, let’s investigate a bit further to understand how oolong tea is produced and how it attains different colors, both in the leaves and in the brew.
What color is oolong tea?
Depending on the tea master and the tea estate, oolong tea may be oxidized lightly or highly, between 8% to 80%. The level of oxidation will determine the color. Oolong tea can range from yellow to pale green, or bright green. It can also have tones of orange, reddish-orange, and amber.
How is oolong tea made?
Most oolong teas originate from China and Taiwan. They are grown from two types of camellia sinensis plants – the camellia sinensis var sinensis and the camellia sinensis var assamica. Most oolongs are grown in high mountainous regions where the terrain is rocky and the weather is cool. These conditions impart a unique flavor to these artisan teas.
Oolong tea goes through many process steps to get to your table.
The main steps are withering, cooling, light rolling, oxidizing, roasting, final rolling, drying, and sorting.
Depending on the tea master, the end product will have a unique look with tea leaves ranging in color from green to almost black. Leaves can also be rolled into tight balls or take on convoluted twisted shapes.
As you can see, there is a great variation in the types of oolong teas available.
Let’s look at each step of the process.
Withering – As the leaves are picked, they are lightly bruised by shaking or tossing. This helps to start the oxidation process. The leaves are then laid out on tables in the sun to wither. This process removes moisture, drying them out. It also softens the leaves.
Cooling – Before rolling can take place, the leaves must cool down after their exposure to the sun. The cooling stage causes the leaves to wilt and flatten.
Light rolling – Rolling determines the shape that the leaves will take. They can be twisted, convoluted, or tightly rolled into balls. This process also breaks down cells, releasing enzymes. The leaves get exposed to oxygen which is the main component to start the oxidation process.
Oxidization – The rolled leaves are left in the air to oxidize. The components of the leaves change chemically due to exposure to oxygen. Depending on the length of time this is allowed to continue, the color of the leaves will change from green to yellow, golden brown, dark brown, and eventually a dark black. Oolong teas can be oxidized from 8% to 80% depending on the tea estate. Lighter oxidation results in lighter colored leaves. Heavier oxidation results in darker leaves and stronger flavors.
Roasting – This process stops the oxidation process at the level required. Heat is applied which also adds to the end flavor of the tea.
Final Rolling – This step determines the final shape of the leaves. Each estate has its unique characteristics.
Drying – The shaped leaves are now left to dry out completely. Leaves cannot be packed if they contain moisture and this will encourage the growth of bacteria and other bugs.
Sorting – Final sorting is done by hand. Skilled workers will sort the leaves, remove damaged leaves and ensure that the final product contains leaves of similar size and color.
You can get different shades of oolong tea leaves
Depending on how far the leaves are oxidized, the color will vary greatly.
Some oolong teas have leaves that are green. Others range from dark green to amber, brown, dark brown, and black.
This makes your oolong tea sometimes resemble a green tea and sometimes resemble a black tea. However, it is neither of the two.
What is the color of an oolong tea infusion?
Depending on your choice of oolong, you will notice that the liquor can be many different hues. They range from green to orange, amber, and a deeper brown.
All these shades are perfectly acceptable for oolong teas.
Let’s look a bit closer at the color of a few premium oolong tea infusions.
Dong Ding – This oolong has a traditional tightly packed ball-shape. The leaves are a dark green with tones of brown. The tea liquor has a bright golden hue. This tea is oxidized midway and offers a smooth caramel-like flavor with nutty notes.
Iron Goddess – Offers a brilliant red infusion, giving it its name. The flavor comes from deeply fermented, slow-baked leaves and offers hints of cacao, black cherry, and raisins.
Baozhong tea is also known as Pouchong tea – This tea is lightly oxidized and is close to green tea. The infusion is a golden yellow shade and the palate offers hints of mild melon.
Phoenix Tea also known as Dan Chong or Dan Cong – This variety comes from the Guangdong province of China. Every batch comes from a different bush and has a different flavor. Leaves from different bushes are never mixed. The infusion is clear with a bright orange color. The taste is smooth and mellow with a lingering sweetness.
Taiwan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong Tea – Tightly rolled balls that fuse into a light yellow liquor with a milky sweet taste.
Dongfang Meiren – A heavily oxidized tea that brews up to give a golden liquor. The name means ‘Oriental Beauty’ and it offers a delightful aroma of honey and mature fruits. The sweet taste comes from the insect Jacobiasca formosana that feeds on the young tender leaves of the plant.
Frequently asked questions about what color is oolong tea
Is oolong tea the same as green tea?
Oolong tea is not green tea. Some varieties of oolong may be very lightly oxidized, giving it an appearance similar to green tea.
Is oolong tea the same as black tea?
Oolong tea is not black tea. Some varieties of oolong may be very highly oxidized, giving it a dark appearance similar to that of black tea.
Does oolong tea contain caffeine?
Yes, it does. However, the amount will vary depending on the tea estate it comes from and the processes used to produce it. In general, a cup of oolong tea contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee.