How to Choose Loose Leaf Oolong Tea
There are a lot of options out there for Oolong tea and it can be hard to choose the right one. How do you tell what's good? Well, it turns out you can tell a lot about a loose leaf Oolong just by its appearance. Here's a quick list of things to look for in dry Oolong tea leaves to help you choose the best tea.
Alishan High Mountain Oolong tea leaves tightly rolled into balls
1. Balled shape
Most Taiwanese Oolong tea is tightly rolled into balls because of the rolling stage of tea processing. The spherical shape goes beyond aesthetics, it helps keep the tea fresh and keeps it from breaking up.
2. Same size
Uniform sized rolled tea leaves mean the leaves were at a similar stage of growth when they were harvested. If the rolled tea leaves vary greatly in size, it means they were not harvested as carefully as they could have been and very young leaves mixed with overly mature leaves. It could also be an indication that more than one crop of tea leaves have been mixed together.
Alishan High Mountain Jin Xuan Oolong tea leaves
3. Similar in shape
Traditional Oolong tea production methods produce tea leaves that are similar in shape. Newer, hydraulic compactors produce leaves that tend to clump, due to the fact that the stem is compressed into the rolled leaf. This affects oxidation and how well the tea dries.
4. Uniform color
Taiwanese Oolong tea is a deep green hue, with hints of reddish brown on the protruding stems. If there are yellowish leaves among the darker green leaves, this indicates that overly mature leaves were harvested along with the new growth. There is always slight variation in color, but look out for big differences.
Loose leaf oolong tea in vacuum sealed bags to retrain freshness
5. Subtle fragrance
When a vacuum sealed bag is opened for the first time smell a nice subtle fragrance. You should be able to detect the subtle notes in the tea and the degree of roasting. If there is a strong perfume smell it could indicate that the leaves have been flavoured with additives during or after processing. If you smell a stale, musty smell it means the tea was not cured well or that it was not stored properly post production.
6. Trust your intuition
Trust your intuition when you first see a given tea. What appeals to you? What looks not quite right? Do the tea leaves look beautiful, like there was great care and finesse in producing them?
How good a tea is ultimately depends on how it tastes to you!
7. Keep an open mind
High quality Oolong tea is grown in nature and processed by hand. It does not always line up with standard assessments, so leave room for the possibility that, even though a batch of tea may look different, it may brew a truly exceptional pot of tea. As with organic produce, it can look stunted and gnarly, but taste the best.
In the end, visual assessment is a first impression that may very well be proven wrong by your experience of smelling and tasting the brewed tea.
Is there anything you look for that we've missed? We love to hear about what you look for when you look at dried Oolong tea leaves.
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The shelf life of tea is a common topic of discussion among tea drinkers. We often see questions such as:
- Can tea go bad?
- How do I keep my loose leaf tea fresh?
- Which teas have longer or shorter shelf lives?
Let's look at some of the factors that affect how long your tea stays fresh.