The processing of Oolong tea is a form of art in itself. The tea has a reputation that is no less than that of fine wine, and even tasting oolong and truly enjoying it might take a trained tongue. How a tea master processes the leaves is what seals the fate of each leaf.
How is Oolong processed?
Tea lovers would know that whether it is black, green or oolong tea, all the leaves are from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The final product depends on the processing, and oolong has its very own, which give it its unique flavour and properties.
The process for oolong tea is an interesting one and goes like this:
Delicate, freshly plucked leaves are bruised, just a wee bit, by tossing them around. Sounds like fun, but it’s important to remember that this is the most important part, as it’s what initiates oxidisation, and brings about the true flavour of oolong. The leaves are then left to bathe in the sun and lose some moisture content. Once the leaves have withered enough to be flexible for rolling and shaping, they are left to cool down.
Soon, the leaves start to wilt and change shape, and are ready to be rolled. Rolling allows for further bruising of the leaves, letting out essentials oils and the like, which lend flavour to oolong tea. Here, each leaf will finally have a defined shape. The oxidisation process (we hope you remember how important this is) takes place again, with the chemical components of oolong being expose to oxygen. This determines the final appearance and colour of oolong tea. The flavour of what you take home depends on the level of oxidization, which could be anywhere in between 8% to 80%.
The leaves are then roasted in order to stop the oxidisation, adding an extra punch of flavour. This is followed by another round of rolling that will give oolong its unique shape. They are then dried yet again to ensure all the moisture content is removed, so they can be stored well.
Last, but not the least, the leaves are sorted based on their size, colour and shape before they are packed and bought by oolong lovers.
It seems like quite a tedious process, but how else would one achieve the rich and robust Oolong that has been so popular and precious among cultures in Asia. So, the next time you brew a cup, take a closer look at the shape of the leaves, and try understanding the aroma. It might actually help you connect with and enjoy your daily dose of oolong better.