If you've experience with brewing yourself a loose black or green tea, you probably know that it's pretty easy. Drop some leaves in a mug, add hot water, and it's hard to go wrong. Oolong tea is different. This semi-oxidized tea type, is a difficult brewer and you'll need to go the kungfu way to get the best flavor and aroma out of the leaves!
If you've got some loose leaf oolong tea yourself, then quickly proceed to find out how to make it at home. If you don't, this guide will still be pretty entertaining for those who want to find out how tea lovers enjoy the slow process of making tea, in contrast to hasty tea bag steeping.
- This article on oolong tea brewing only applies to those who want to brew loose leaves, instead of tea bags. Making oolong tea bags isn't that complicated and you could simply follow the vendor guidelines on the packaging.
- This brewing guide is tweaked for those who want to steep an oolong tea. So if you want to brew a green, black, white tea, then you're better of with another guide. For pu erh tea steepers, this guide could still be pretty usefel, as there's a lot of overlap between brewing pu erh and oolong.
So let's get started!
Step 1: Choose the Right Teaware
Oolong tea needs to be steeped at the highest water temperature possible, and you also want the water temperature to stay close to 100 C (212 F) as long as possible. Given, this you should get something that isolates heat well. That's why we suggest to get one of the following:
- A porcelain/ceramic teapot
- A porcelain/ceramic gaiwan
- An yixing teapot
- An yixing gaiwan
As you can see the above tea makers are all made from porcelain, ceramic or yixing clay. The reason is because both types of material are effective in isolating heat. Not sure which one you prefer? Then read these guides first: Gaiwan versus Yixing & Yixing teapot features
What you shouldn't get
Don't get glass teaware. The benefit of glass is that you can appreciate the appearance of loose leaves and herbs in the pot when they're being brewed. See for example the image above how a glass teapot is used for brewing goji berries and flowers. However, glass doesn't isolate heat as well as porcelain and yixing, so stay away from it when brewing oolong.
Step 2: Get the Right Size of Teaware for Kungfu Brewing
Because we're brewing the traditional kungfu (or gongfu) way, we don't want oversized teapots. The idea of kungfu brewing is that you want to steep the same leaves multiple times. This allows you to enjoy the different in flavor and aroma of every brewing session. Generally oolong tea can be steeped for 5 to 10 sessions.
The right size of teaware should visit 100 ml to 250 ml. Gaiwans and Yixing teapots are usually around that size. Porcelain teapots in that size are more rare though.
Tea-for-one or Tea-for-many?
If you're just steeping for yourself then go for something closer to the lower 100 ml range. When brewing together with some tea friends, then get something close to 250 ml.
Step 3: Brewing Dancong Oolong Tea With a Gaiwan
If you've got yourself a Yixing or porcelain gaiwan, then read this step. If you've got something else, the proceed to the next step.
In the video we demonstrate how you can brew a Dancong Oolong using a Yixing gaiwan. Watch the video and also see the steps below with some additional notes from us:
- Remove the lid from the gaiwan cup.
- Add 2-3 grams of leaves. This should be about 2 tablespoons for Dancong oolong.
- Add hot water at 100 C.
- In a full tea ceremony, you want to discard the first brew and use the tea liquor to rinse the cups. This allows the leaves to open up a bit first. Moreover, the gaiwan is now hot, allowing to isolate heat better.
- Add hot water again and cover the cup with a lid.
- Wait for the steeping temperature to pass. Follow the following:
- First brew: 60 seconds
- Add 20 seconds for every subsequent brew.
Keep in mind that you should always dedicate Yixing teaware to one specific kind of tea. So if you just got yourself a Yixing gaiwan to steep oolong, then dedicate it to only this tea type. Over time it will acquire the fragrance of oolong tea, and enhance the flavor! Read more here: Dedicating Yixing Teapots to Specific Kinds of Tea
Step 4: Brewing Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea With a Teapot
In this video you can see how we make a traditional Da Hong Pao oolong from Wuyishan, China. If you own a porcelain, ceramic or yixing teapot. Then this video is perfect to use as a guide. Compared to using gaiwans, which allows for a more casual brew, with teapots you can perform a full kungfu tea ceremony as you can see in the video.
Watch the video and read the summarized steps below:
- Open the teapot and add hot water.
- Pour the water into a pitcher and rinse the cups.
- Add tea leaves.
- Add hot water in a circular motion.
- Put the lid on the teapot and discard the tea in the tea pitcher again. Don't try it away though, as you'll need it for one of the next steps.
- Add hot water in a circular motion in the teapot again.
- Close teapot and pour the tea in the pitcher over the teapot. This allows the teapot to isolate the heat inside even better!
- Wait for the steeping time to pass and serve!
- First brew: 30 seconds
- Increase steeping time by 15 seconds for every next brew.
If you experience issues with holding a gaiwan teapot or got your hands burned, then read this guide: 2 ways to hold and pour with an Yixing teapot
If you just got yourself an Yixing, then make sure to season the Yixing teapot first before use. Seasoning isn't required for ceramic or porcelain pots.