Drink Magazine

Chasing the Dragon- the Allure of Oolong Tea

By Dchew78 @peonyts

Readers of this site will probably realize we are somewhat oolong-centric, what with oolong tea making up almost half of all our selection of tea leaves and having a dedicated oolong corner to consolidate our oolong related articles. At the slightest provocation, I would happily declare that my favorite category of tea is oolong tea.

What is the allure of oolong tea and why is it often the choice of connoisseurs?


Tea is about balance, finding the point where the positives are accentuated while the trade-offs are minimized.

The uniqueness of oolong tea is that it meshes the briskness of green tea, the aroma and robustness of black tea with the ‘cha qi’ of Pu-er to create a distinct flavor of its own. Contrary to what some claims, level of oxidation doesn’t determine the taste- if that was true black tea would be unquestionably the tastiest tea which obviously isn’t the case- and oolong teas are fully flavored in their own rights.

There is something in oolong tea that would appeal to regular green tea drinkers- the ‘hui gan’ and brisk sweetness, especially in Taiwanese high mountain teas- as well as the ‘kick’ that would appeal to Pu-er drinkers. Then there is its own unique ‘yun’ that captivates a whole new audience.

Multiple Infusions

Other than well-aged Pu-er, typically oolong teas can last for the most infusions. Generally a decent oolong tea can go for 4 infusions or more while some like Dahongpao can go for 9 infusions easily.

Chasing the Dragon- the Allure of Oolong Tea
It’s not just a matter of tight-fistedness though. Steeping teas for multiple infusions allows the drinker the joy of observing the subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in between infusions.

For example, for a Wuyi Yancha, the first infusion is typically more aromatic but a tad thinner on the body. The 2nd to 4th infusion would have a fuller body and more satisfying mouth feel. By the 5th or 6th infusion, the complexity is lesser but a more distinct sweetness which was previously obscured by the bittersweet taste starts to shine through.

For black teas though, usually it’s a case of the infusions getter ‘lighter’ in taste as opposed to displaying a different character.

The ability to be steeped many times also gives the brewer ample opportunity to adjust the parameters and find his or her personal optimal combination.

Which brings me to the next point……


In my somewhat biased opinion, no other category of tea is more dependent on human technique than oolong tea- both the technique of the producer and the brewer.

Skill of the Producer

The finest teas continue to be hand-picked and hand-produced in China.

For oolong teas, this is even more evident as it undergoes more stages of processing than any other category of tea, you can read more about the production of oolong tea here.

For the highest grades of oolong teas, the masters personally handle each stage of production after the leaves are picked. From withering- indoors and outdoors- to rattling the baskets by hand, then heating to halt the oxidation and the multiple stages of roasting and baking which is a great deal more complex than setting the timer and temperature on the oven.

Many approach oolong teas thinking terroir makes all the difference, ignoring the skills and mastery of the producers with discretion and judgment that can only be developed by years if not decades of experience.

Skill of the Brewer

Chasing the Dragon- the Allure of Oolong Tea
With the work that went into each batch of tea leaves, you can scarcely approach it in a cavalier manner ala dumping a couple of teaspoons into a huge pot or mug. Oolong tea and gongfu brewing are virtually inseparable as you can read about here.

Small vessels, small cups and small sips. The way to savor oolong tea. Pairing with the right utensils, knowing the tea and approaching it the right way, brewing oolong tea is an activity in itself.

It’s not for no reason that oolong tea requires ‘gongfu’ as in effort and time but it rewards you handsomely.


Do you like honey? Ginger? Magnolia? Almond? Cassia bark?

You can get those notes in one sub-category of oolong alone- Dancong. To say nothing of the refreshing sweetness of Wenshan Baozhong or the volcanic mineral taste of Wuyi Yancha or the natural invigorating sweet-sourness of Tieguanyin.

No other type of tea offers the same diversity as oolong tea. Production techniques such as level of oxidation, roasting levels can add a whole new dimension to its taste, even for teas produced within the same area.

Cultivars and terroir also make a world of difference to the taste.

Chasing the Dragon- the Allure of Oolong Tea
Few types of beverages offer the same complexity and depth as oolong tea, sometimes within the same pot across different infusions.

Such is the allure of oolong tea.

See our selection of oolong tea here

See other articles related to oolong tea

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