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How to Pick a Good Looking Oolong Tea

You know the old adage "You can't judge a book by it's cover"?

It turns out that you can tell a lot by "judging" Oolong tea by it's appearance. Here's a quick list of things to look for when you are looking at dry Oolong tea leaves. 

How to judge oolong from looking at it

1. Taiwanese oolong tea leaves are rolled into balls

Most Taiwanese Oolong tea is tightly rolled into balls because of the rolling stage of processing. The spherical shape goes beyond aesthetics, it helps keep the tea fresh and keeps it from breaking up. 

2. Rolled tea leaves should be the 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. 

3. Rolled tea leaves should be similar in shape

Traditional 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. The color should be uniform

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. 

5. Dried tea leaves should have a subtle fragrance

When a vacuum sealed bag is opened for the first time smell it. 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?

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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3 Responses

Eco-Cha
Eco-Cha

April 02, 2016

Thanks for mentioning that Robert! You just gave us an idea about a follow up post where we can discuss your points in a little more depth.

Robert
Robert

March 31, 2016

Good article,
Might be a good idea to mention leaves which are excessively light in color and different plucking standards (1 leaf vs. 2 leaf and bud, vs 3 or more leaves and bud etc..) Also, how to recognize off shore tea. Thanks for sharing!

Jim
Jim

March 31, 2016

Thank you for TEAching us spreading knowledge.

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