Best Oolong Tea – Buyers Guide

Oolong tea is one of the less well-known (but even more delicious) tea types from the tea plant. Filling the void between green tea and black tea, oolong is incredibly diverse and there’s guaranteed to be at least one oolong tea you’ll fall in love with!

With so many varieties to select from, choosing the best oolong is a hard job. You can select from oolongs grown all over the world with unmatched complex flavour profiles. So, we’ve put together a quick guide to the best (and our personal favourites) that you can buy online and try at home.

What Is Oolong Tea?

green oolong tea

Oolong tea is made by partially oxidising the tea leaves after they’re picked and withered. Green tea is unoxidized and stays fresh and bright, while black tea is completely oxidised and has a fuller body and richer flavour. Oolong tea can be very slightly oxidised to just 8% or high oxidised to 80%, resulting in a wide range of flavour notes, mouthfeels, textures, sensations and bodies. Once oxidised and dried, the leaves are twisted and curled into beautiful elongated shapes.

The unique processing techniques are from China, where this traditional tea has been consumed for centuries. There are completely unique tea cultivars and varieties that are grown purely for making oolong tea. This creates some very fine-quality, expensive and rare oolong teas that have been perfected over the centuries of growing and processing.

Flavor

Oolong tea covers every oxidisation level between green tea and black tea, so naturally, the flavours fall in between too. A lightly oxidised oolong tea may be grassy, light-bodied and even floral. A darkly oxidised oolong tea may be full-bodied, warm and nutty or toasty.

The colour of the tea leaves and liquor can be a good indicator of how the tea will taste. If it’s lighter it may taste more like a green tea, whereas if it’s darker and more golden it may taste more like a black tea.

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How to Choose the Best Oolong Tea

how to choose best tea

Before we jump into our extensive list of famous oolong teas to try, here are a few of our own recommendations of where to start.

Oolong Tea for Beginners

As a beginner, we have a few recommendations. Start with 1 lightly oxidised oolong, 1 medium oxidised oolong, and 1 darkly oxidised oolong so you can work out what you enjoy. Also, buy small samples (20g) that should afford you a few cups of each – don’t buy hundreds of grams in case you don’t like the tea!

Alishan – this Taiwanese light oxidised oolong has a comforting creamy flavour and familiar green tea notes.

Jun Chiyabari – an unusual medium oxidised Nepali oolong that’s still light but with warmer, richer nutty notes.

Da Hong Pao – a very famous Chinese dark oxidised oolong with rich, mineral, roasted honey notes.

For the Black Tea Lover

If you love the rich warmth and classic roasted flavour of black tea, you’ll love dark oxidised oolongs. We recommend the Wuyi oolongs from the Wuyi Mountains in China for you. They’re deep, rich and often have mineral, honey, and floral notes. Try a fruity subvariety of Dancong, Shui Xian for notes of honey and caramel, or Rou Gui for toasty, sweet and stewed fruity notes.

For the Green Tea Fiend

The lightly oxidised oolongs will taste very familiar if you enjoy green tea, particularly genmaicha. The slight oxidation removes some of the more bitter, grassy notes for a smoother and warmer oolong. If you like roasted Chinese green teas, you’ll adore light oolongs.

Try Tieguanyin from the Fujian province for a green-tea-like oolong with floral and creamy notes. For more vegetal notes, head to Taiwan for Li Shan oolong, which is smooth, light, floral and grassy with notes of vegetables.

Have a Sweet Tooth?

tea for sweet tooth

Oolongs can often have very sweet notes!

For dark, rich caramel sweetness, try Chinese Shui Xian. This dark oxidised oolong is verging on malty sweetness.

For light, grassy sweetness, try Vietnam’s Imperial Oolong. It has typical green tea sweetness with floral and citrus notes.

For juicy, fruity sweetness, try Thai Red Tiger. It’s often made with Assamica variety tea for cherry notes, maltiness and roasted fruit and honey sweetness.

The Best of All Time

If we had to select just one oolong to be the best of all time, it would have to be Phoenix oolong, Dancong. It has several sub-varieties that cover a huge range of different flavours. It’s been refined, cultivated and processed in China for centuries to complete perfection. If you only try 1 oolong tea, make sure it is this one.

Adventurous Oolong Choice

Our last oolong choice is for the adventurous tea drinker. Someone who wants something a little bit different. For you, we suggest trying Si Ji Chun from Taiwan. It has some interesting earthy notes you might enjoy!

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Types of Best Oolong Tea

types of oolong tea

As oolong is so diverse, there are hundreds of different teas you can try, each with unique flavours. Here we’ve compiled a list of the most renowned, famous and noteworthy teas from all over the world.

Processing methods differ slightly, but all oolongs follow the same rough process. Larger leaves are typically used for oolong, although a few tips can be found in a few of the varieties below. Once the leaves are picked and withered, they’re oxidised by slightly crushing or rolling the leaves. This breaks down the structure of the leaf a little bit, allowing the enzymes in the leaf to come into contact with oxygen. This turns the leaves brown.

A light oolong is quickly fixed (firing the leaves with heat to deactivate the enzymes and stop oxidation from continuing) while a dark oolong is allowed to oxidise for longer.

Finally, the leaves are dried, rolled and twisted into shapes – usually long, twiggy shapes or small nugget shapes.

Chinese Oolong Teas

China is the largest producer of oolong teas that they’ve been growing for centuries. Most are grown in the Fujian province and are categorised according to taste and where they’re grown. The most well-known and highly regarded oolongs from China are from the Wuyi Mountains.

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) – dark oxidised oolong from the Wuyi Mountains. Rich, minerally and roasted flavour with honeyed notes.

Dancong (Phoenix Oolong) – encompasses several oolong teas from the same variety grown in the Guangdong province. Fruity, floral and/or herbal flavours, depending on the subvariety.

Shui Jin Gui (Golden Water Turtle) – dark oxidised oolong from the Wuyi Mountains. Intense floral aroma, rich and aromatic.

Shui Xian (Water Sprite) – dark oxidised oolong from the Wuyi Mountains. Rich, dark flavour with strong honey, caramel, and fruity notes.

Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) – light oxidised oolong from Anxi, Fujian province. Complex, floral and slightly creamy with green tea notes.

Tieluohan (Iron Monk) – light oxidised oolong from the Wuyi Mountains. Bright, floral and mineral notes.

Rou Gui (Cinnamon) – dark oxidised oolong from the Wuyi Mountains. Rich, deep, toasty sweetness and fruit notes.

Taiwanese Oolong Teas

With some Taiwanese oolong varieties being described as the “Champagne of Tea” these are definitely worth a try. Not as well known as the Chinese oolongs, Taiwan’s oolong production is still growing. The mountainous terrain of Taiwan produces very fine quality oolongs.

Alishan – light oxidised oolong from the Alishan Mountain. Light, floral and sweet often with notes of fruit and a buttery mouthfeel.

Bai Hao – medium-dark oxidised oolong from Taiwan (also produced in China) made from the silver tea tips. Mellow, sweet, smooth and nutty notes – a good dessert tea.

Baozhong – very light oxidised oolong from Taiwan, also known as Pouchong. Delicate body, floral notes, and a gentle sweetness.

Dong Ding – light oxidised oolong from Ding Dong Mountain, Taiwan. “Icy Peak” oolong. A refreshing, fruity oolong with woody and floral notes.

Gui Fei – medium oxidised oolong from Nantou County, Taiwan. Full, complex and rich with notes of apple, cedar, honey, and citrus.

Hong Shui – medium oxidised oolong from Dong Ding area of Taiwan at high altitudes. Roasted fruit profile with a smooth feel and sweet notes.

Jin Xuan – light oxidised oolong from Taiwan that’s well-known as milk oolong. Smooth, creamy and light with delicate floral notes.

Li Shan – light oxidised oolong from Li Shan (Pear Mountain) in Taiwan, grown at high altitudes. Smooth, light, floral and fruity with grassy/vegetal notes.

Si Ji Chun – dark oxidised oolong from Taiwan, also known as Four Seasons as it’s harvested 4 times per year. Light, floral and slightly earthy.

Vietnamese Oolong Teas

Vietnam has a growing selection of oolong teas that are cultivated over the mountainous parts of the country, with a little help from Taiwan. Some of the finest oolong teas are from Vietnam but the production of these teas is dwarfed by China and Taiwan. We’re happy to report that Vietnamese oolongs are becoming increasingly easy to find online! These are our 2 favourites.

Red Buffalo – dark oxidised oolong from Vietnam. Smooth, malty and rich flavour with notes of honey, flowers, fruits, and cream.

Imperial Oolong – light oxidised oolong from Vietnam. Light green-tea-like oolong with floral and citrus notes.

Nepali Oolong Teas

In Nepal, oolong teas are grown in the high altitudes of the Himalayas, producing some very fine quality teas. Although not as well known as Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs, you can still find a variety of good Nepali oolongs online. This is our favourite.

Jun Chiyabari – medium oxidised oolong from the Himalayas. Rich, soft and mellow with nutty and notable floral notes.

Thai Oolong Teas

Finally, we come to Thailand. Oolong is one of the most heavily produced tea types in Thailand. It can be hit and miss – you don’t want to buy any old tea you find on your holiday to Thailand! The mountainous terrain is the key to the success of oolong in Thailand, just like Taiwan, Vietnam, and Nepal.

Red Tiger – medium oxidised oolong from Thailand, sometimes made with Assamica variety tea or Jin Xuan (milk oolong) variety. It has malty, amber notes and smooth honey taste with a hint of cherry fruits.

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Where to Buy Oolong Tea

oolong tea garden

In a perfect world, everyone could simply walk out of the door and find an oolong tea shop just a few minutes away. You’d be able to examine the freshness, size, shape, and quality of leaf for yourself before buying. But unfortunately, tea shops that stock a wide array of oolongs are few and far between in the western world.

So, to help you with buying your oolong online (which is really the only choice you’re left with) we’ve come up with a few tips.

  1. Look for reputable sellers. Don’t buy your oolong from weight-loss sites and other generic websites. For high-quality oolong, you need to find genuine, passionate tea sellers and stockists with websites dedicated to quality oolong.
  2. Buy whole leaf. Tea bags will contain the poorest quality oolong. For a good oolong, you want loose leaf, often sold in pouches or tins. Look for signs that the loose leaf is also whole leaf, simply meaning the leaves are whole and not broken for a quicker infusion. Whole, loose leaf oolong is much harder to fake.
  3. Read the finer details. A good sign of an authentic oolong and oolong seller is in the details. Look for the origin of the tea and the harvest date for a start. You should be able to track back a quality oolong to its origin.

Find a tea site that meets all those criteria and they’re likely a good place to start buying oolong!

Oolong FAQs

fresh taiwan oolong tea in teacup

Without making this article t-Oo-long, there are a few final frequently asked questions about this tea that we’d like to answer. There are all sorts of myths that float around about the miracle health benefits of tea and the actual caffeine levels in a cup of tea. So, here you can find the truth once and for all about oolong tea.

1

How Do I Make and Brew Oolong Tea?

Brewing oolong tea is just the same as brewing any other loose leaf tea – simple! As oolong teas can vary in oxidation levels, the exact water temperature needed may differ. If there are no instructions with the oolong tea you purchase, start with 80°C water and increase the temperature for future cups if needed.

  • Add your tea leaves to your cup, infuser or teapot. Use 2g to 4g of tea leaves per serving – about 1 or 2 teaspoons.
  • Boil or heat freshly drawn water, then pour it slowly and steadily over the tea leaves.
  • Let the tea leaves infuse for 3 to 5 minutes, or to taste.
  • Pour your oolong tea into your cup, straining out the leaves, or simply remove the infuser.
  • Sip slowly and enjoy the tea flavour.

2

Does Oolong Tea Contain Caffeine?

drink tea with smile

Yes, all oolong teas contain caffeine. In fact, all teas from the camellia sinensis plant contain caffeine even if they’ve been decaffeinated and only a few mg of caffeine remains.

The exact amount of caffeine in your oolong tea varies drastically. The amount of caffeine in the leaf is dictated by the soil the leaf is grown in, the cultivar and variety of tea plant and the size of the leaf.

The processing of the tea leaves, through rolling, oxidising and withering, dictates how much of that caffeine eventually infuses into your cup of tea.

A lightly processed green oolong may have as little as 20mg of caffeine per 8oz brewed cup. A dark, almost black, oxidised oolong may have as much as 70mg of caffeine per 8oz brewed cup.

3

What Are the Health Benefits of Oolong Tea?

Oolong tea has similar health benefits as green tea, white tea, and black tea, as it’s brewed from the same tea leaves just processed in a different way.

Drinking a moderate amount of oolong tea every day (3 cups, for example) can result in the following health benefits.

  • The caffeine can help you feel awake and energetic while the L-Theanine amino acid ensures you’re calm, relaxed and focused.
  • Provide antioxidants that bind to free radicals. Deactivating free radicals can prevent cancer and prevent cell damage that contributes to the visual signs of aging. It cannot cure cancer, however.
  • In heavily oxidised oolong teas, there are high levels of theaflavins (a specific antioxidant) which are excellent for heart health by reducing cholesterol. This also reduces the risks of diabetes and obesity.
  • The EGCG antioxidant present in lightly oxidised/green oolongs, can aid weight loss and reduce inflammation internally and on your skin (acne). There’s also evidence that this antioxidant can prevent brain and heart diseases.
  • The fluoride levels in tea can also improve dental health.

4

What Are the Side Effects of Oolong Tea?

There are very few side effects of oolong tea unless you consume a very large amount. Most of these side effects come from the caffeine levels. Consuming too much caffeine (400mg+) can cause:

  • Increased heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors and palpitations

The tannins and polyphenols in tea might also make you feel a little queasy if you drink it on an empty stomach.

Unless you plan on drinking several litres of tea in one sitting, you don’t need to worry about the side effects of drinking oolong tea. At most, you might feel a little tired as the caffeine wears off.