Oolong Tea 101: The Best Oolong Tea

Background of Oolong Tea

Oolong is the style of tea that is the most varied. It is most commonly produced in Anxi, Wuyi, Guangdong in China and Taiwan. The style began in Fujian around the early Tang and was compressed into a cake. The style exploded after the prohibition of tea cakes in the Ming dynasty and popularization of Tieguanyin during the Qing dynasty. They transported tea seeds and processing secrets to Taiwan from Fujian in the late 18th century. Oolong in the west gained acclaim when Elizabeth II named Oriental Beauty tea for its exquisite flavor and unique appearance.

Wuyi, Fujian, China

Oolong production most likely began in the Wuyi Mountain region of Fujian. Yancha, or rock tea, is a type of oolong with characteristics of roast, minerality, florality, and sweetness. The producers roast the tea over low heat several times, with months of rest in between each roasting. The Si Da Ming Cong, or Four Famous Bushes are Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Luo Han, and Bai Ji Guan, but there are several other yancha that display similar flavor characteristics at a lower price point like Shui Xian or Narcissus tea.

Anxi, Fujian, China

The most common style of oolong from Anxi is Tie Guan Yin. It is also the most consumed oolong in China. True Tie Guan Yin uses a specific tea variety by the same name, but many producers will use other varieties to create their version of Tie Guan Yin using a specific production style. This tea is heavily macerated. The producer stays up all night to continuously shake and bruise the leaves, then they roll and roast it. Se Zhong oolong is the generic term for all of the other oolongs produced in Anxi, other than Tie Guan Yin.

Guangdong, China

The Fenghuang or Phoenix mountains in Guangdong produce high quality oolongs specific to each micro-region. They are Dan Cong or single-bush teas that are produced from a single variety native to that specific micro-region. There are two main styles: traditional or bouquet. The traditional style is more heavily oxidized and roasted, yielding sweet and smooth flavors. While the bouquet style is lighter, and more floral. They get their name from their flavor or fragrance. For instance, Mi Lan Xiang is Honey Orchid Fragrance.


The high-mountain or Gao Shan oolong from Taiwan are some of the highest quality, grown above 1,000 meters. Jin Xuan and Qin Xin cultivars are the most common. Jin Xuan is most known for its use in milk oolong, named for its flavor and creamy texture. This production is best at slightly lower elevations. Qin Xin is more delicate and expensive. This comes from the highest elevations.

Mao Xie or Hairy Crab (Se Zhong) field


Oolong Teas are partially oxidized. They fall between green teas and black teas with lower oxidized teas behaving more like green teas and higher oxidation levels being more similar to black teas.


Plucking or picking depends on the oolong style produced. Producers rarely use buds for oolong. Lighter oxidation oolongs will generally use younger, more delicate leaves, while larger, older leaves will be used for more oxidized teas.


Withering is the partial drying of the leaves to 50-60% moisture in about 2-4 hours. The loss of moisture softens the leaves. This allows producers to roll and shape them without breaking. The rate of withering impacts the final flavor of the oolong. However, producers can manipulate this by sun withering or moving the tea into indoors into cool environments.

Hariy Crab Withering on Bamboo mats


Macerating or bruising the tea is important in breaking down the cells and releasing enzymes to accelerate oxidation. Although maceration may not occur in all styles of oolong, it is more common in heavily oxidized teas. Producers may flip the tea in bamboo baskets or stir using brooms or rakes to break down the leaf cell structure.


The degree of oxidation depends on the style of oolong produced. Oxidation will happen more rapidly if the tea was macerated or bruised, but may still be heated for 8-12 hours to accelerate the process. It may be on Bamboo mats or in drums.


This step haults the oxidation of the leaves, similar to Sha Qing in green teas. Most oolongs are pan fired.

Mao Xie Shaping and Drying Equipment


Most oolong is either twisted or rolled to release any aromatic oils during the fixation step, but it may occur after. Producers may roll the tea several times, with periods of rest in between.

Drying and Firing

Finally, the last step is to completely dry the oolong and stabilize the oils and aromatics. Producers may dry with hot air in drums, or may fire at a higher temperature over a charcoal flame. Firing is more common with Chinese oolongs and imparts more caramelization and woody flavors.

Mao Xie finished product

Brewing the best oolong tea

Brewing oolong is heavily depends on the processing style. Using standard western brewing methods like tea infusers, bags, and pots, you should brew heavily oxidized teas at a higher temperature (205°F) for longer periods of time (4-6 minutes). However, less oxidized options should use lower temperatures (185°F) for shorter periods of time (2-4minutes).

Brewing oolong tea Gongfu style can reveal complex and nuanced flavors that may be less clear brewing western style. This style uses a stronger brew ratio and several shorter steeps to reveal what flavors are extracted at varying parts of the brew.

What you will need:
Filtration device, optional
Small pitcher (Gong Dao Bei)
Tea tray (chachuan), optional
Tea cups
1g/fl oz loose leaf tea

1. Add tea to gaiwan
2. Rinse tea with hot water and immediately discard. This removes dust and preheats the vessel
3. Add water to gaiwan until full, and steep for 30 seconds

4. Carefully shift the lid away from the gaiwan lip, creating a small space for water to pass Then pour the infusion through the filtration device into pitcher
5. Decant first steep evenly into separate cups until pitcher is empty
6. Finally, repeat this process for 3-5 steeps, remarking on the change of flavor with each successive steep

Royal Tea New York Oolong Tea

Organic Tieguanyin

Tieguanyin, or “Iron Goddess of Mercy”, is easily one of the most famous and best oolong teas. This tea is named for its accompanying origin legend. In the story, a farmer named Wei would pass by a run-down temple to Guanyin, the Bodhissattva of Compassion, each day. Although he did not have the means to restore the temple, he would stop to clean and light incense. Guanyin visited him in a dream and told him of a treasure in the cave near the temple. He found a tea shoot in the cave and planted it, producing a fine tea that brought prosperity to Wei and the Anxi region.

Tieguanyin can be classified by roasting level or by harvest season. While traditional Tieguanyin is heavily roasted, we source a modern process version that is less oxidized and less roasted. The modern process results in a jade color oolong with a flowery aroma and taste. We love the notes of buttered vegetables and honey!

Shop Royal Tea New York’s Organic Tieguanyin Tea

Hairy Crab (Mao Xie)

Don’t let the name scare you! Mao Xie is named for the fuzzy appearance of the tea leaves as they unfurl when steeped. Like Tieguanyin, this oolong hails from Fujian Province, China. It’s lightly oxidized, so it leans more towards a green tea character with floral notes of gardenia. This is a great budget-friendly option for newcomers who are looking to branch out into the world of oolong, or for kombucha brewers!

Shop Royal Tea New York’s Hairy Crab Tea

Phoenix Oolong (Mi Lan Xiang)

Dan Cong are oolong teas grown in the Phoenix Mountains of the Guangdong Province, China. Meaning “single bush”, Dan Cong varieties are classified by their fragrance. Some examples are magnolia, cinnamon and almond fragrance.

Mi Lan Xiang translates to honey orchid fragrance, and this tea certainly lives up to its name! It is medium bodied with powerful notes of honey and orchid. This oolong tea is heavily oxidized and roasted. Producers only slightly twist this tea instead of rolling into beads like other oolong varieties.

Shop Royal Tea New York’s Phoenix Oolong Tea