When you ask people what type of tea they prefer, most will say either green or black tea.
While these are the most common types of tea in the West, they are far from the only types. Another popular type is oolong tea.
Sometimes referred to as “between” green and black teas because of its flavor profile and level of oxidation, oolong tea offers a complex but rewarding taste.
Read on and we’ll talk about what exactly that means.
What does oolong tea taste like?
Oolong tea has a wide variety of flavor profiles. The taste of oolong tea depends mostly on oxidation, roasting and other processes for the specific tea you are drinking. Some oolong teas are light and fruity, while others are dark and chocolatey and nearly as strong as black teas.
The secret to the taste of oolong tea
Many people talk about how they like the taste of white tea or know the best pairings with black tea.
The truth is that there is no single taste to oolong tea. Instead, oolong provides a wide variety of flavors, from the light and fruity to the dark and chocolatey.
What accounts for these many different tastes? The main culprit is the level of oxidation that the tea leaves have undergone in processing.
If you’re not familiar with oxidation, it is the process of exposing tea leaves to oxygen (hence: oxidation). Oxidation dries the tea leaves, causing them to darken and kicking off chemical reactions that change the taste and properties of tea leaves from green (unoxidized) tea all the way up to black (fully oxidized) tea.
Oolong tea lies somewhere in the middle, occupying a wide range of oxidation levels from as low as 10% and all the way up to 80%. This means the taste of oolong tea can be incredibly diverse, with no one specific description that accurately captures all varieties.
In addition to oxidation, many traditional oolong teas are roasted to varying degrees. Roasting brings out much more complex flavors as the leaves are dried and can take on a much stronger, almost smoky taste.
Not all oolong teas are toasted, however. Especially for those oolong varieties which are less oxidized, roasting can be skipped for a more subtle flavor.
Light, fruity oolongs
Oolong teas that are not strongly oxidized are often described as having fruity or floral notes. You may also hear tea afficionados call them “clear” or “refreshing.”
You may find that oolong teas in this category have the taste of green tea or even the milder white tea at times.
If you’re buying a professionally packaged oolong tea that has been blended with fruits, flowers or other flavors, chances are good that your tea will be lightly oxidized. That’s because the subtle taste of this type of oolong tea allows the other flavors through to your palate, providing a delicate mix of tea and additive.
Here are some of the other common words and phrases used to describe lightly oxidized oolong teas:
- Hints of honey
- Sunny and sweet
- Smooth aftertaste
- Fresh and bright
One of the most famous varieties of oolong tea, tieguanyin, is lightly oxidized and has a taste reminiscent of nectar and orchids.
Dark, chocolatey oolongs
Remember that not all oolong teas are lightly oxidized. Some are as much as 80% oxidized. That’s only 20% less than black tea!
It’s no surprise, then, that some oolongs have a very strong, robust flavor. These varieties are usually described as “dark” due to the deeper brown color of the leaves and can still carry floral notes in some cases.
Highly oxidized oolong teas can have a biscuity, almost chocolate like taste that make them appealing as a dessert tea. As always, the other elements of the tea making process will affect the final
- Caramel aftertaste
- Deep and satisfying
Da Hong Pao Wuyi oolong tea is a well-known example of highly oxidized tea, with notes of caramel and buttered toast. Aged for 80 years or longer before being served, it’s also one of the most expensive teas, costing up to $600 for a single pot
Roasted oolong tea
After being oxidized, some oolong tea varieties are roasted. Typically, this is done with charcoal, which lends a hint of woodsmoke to the leaves and creates some very complex flavor profiles.
Some of the words and phrases people use to describe roasted oolong are below:
- Mouth-watering aftertaste
- Smooth and inviting
Of course, it’s worth noting that roasting isn’t an all or nothing affair. Some oolong teas can be very strongly roasted while others can be only slightly roasted. Just like with oxidation, the decisions made by the tea maker will affect the final flavor of the tea. Likewise, a lightly oxidized but heavily roasted oolong will taste very different from a heavily oxidized but lightly roasted tea.
The taste of oolong milk tea
Milk tea, also called bubble tea or boba tea, is a newer way to drink tea. Made of powdered tea mixed with milk powder and often served with tapioca balls (boba), milk tea is a sweet and creamy drink.
Oolong may not be among the most popular bubble tea flavors but it definitely should be on people’s radar.
Just like any other type of bubble tea, the exact flavor of oolong milk tea will depend on what variety is being used.
The most common oolong milk teas are heavily roasted, though, with the robust charcoal hints working to set off milk tea’s traditional sweetness in a delicious and energizing way.