Complete Guide to Brewing Loose Leaf Oolong Tea (UPDATED)
Oolong Tea includes a broad range of tea types, and similarly there are several ways you can brew Oolong. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to brew the best cup of loose leaf Oolong Tea.
How to Make Oolong Tea: The Most Common Methods
Though there are variations, the main ways to brew Oolong Tea are: Gong Fu, grandpa style, large pitcher, and cold brew. Each method has its pros and cons, so let’s examine each more closely.
How to Brew Loose Leaf Oolong Tea Gong Fu Style
Gong Fu tea brewing involves brewing small amounts of concentrated tea for short intervals that are repeated several times. Brewing the tea in small amounts for short intervals allows the leaves to be brewed in succession, capturing the subtle essences of flavor and aroma as they are released from the tea leaves.
The Chinese term "Gong Fu Cha" (功夫茶) refers to the traditional method of brewing Oolong Tea in a small teapot or a lidded bowl called a “gaiwan”. You can buy Gong Fu tea sets, which includes everything you’d need to brew tea, including a small Gong Fu teapot, pitcher, and cups. When using such a setup, be sure to also have a bowl or vessel that is big enough to hold the brewed tea leaves as well as the discarded rinse water before and after brewing.
Rinse and Warm the Teaware
If you're starting out with a spanking new clay (yixing) Gong Fu teapot, be sure you've properly seasoned it before using it. Check out our guide on how to properly cure a Gong Fu teapot to get you set up for proper brewing. If your teapot is all nice and cured, begin by rinsing and warming the teaware with boiled water, and discarding the rinse water.
Proportion of Loose Leaf Tea Leaves to Water
The amount of tea leaves to be used is typically measured in proportion to the size of the teapot. For smaller pots, filling the pot to 1/6 capacity with dry leaves is a general rule of thumb for tightly rolled Oolong Tea. Leaves that are not tightly rolled should be measured differently. Proportionally less tea should be used as the size of the pot increases.
Putting loose leaf tea leaves into a clay or "yixing" teapot
When brewing Gong Fu style with teapots up to 200ml, we recommend a basic proportion of 1:15, leaves to water for unroasted Oolong Tea types. For a 150ml teapot, we’d typically use about 10g of tea leaves. If there are very few stems, and the size of the rolled tea leaves is particularly small, start with less leaves — about 8g/150ml.
How Long to Steep Oolong Tea
Prior to brewing the first pot of tea, rinse and moisten the leaves by filling the pot with boiled water and immediately pouring off the rinse to be discarded. Then refill the pot for the first brew. About 50 seconds is allowed for the first brew, and 10-15 seconds are added for each successive brew. After the third brew, up to two minutes for each successive brew is usually fine. Quality tea can be brewed 5-8 times, depending on the leaf. Most Taiwanese Oolongs can be brewed at least five times, and often more.
Brewing Roasted Oolong Tea
A general rule for roasted Oolongs is the more roasted the leaves are, the less leaves needed. So start with around 8g/150ml, and then adjust accordingly. In the end, each batch of tea has its own character and its worth learning how to brew each batch of tea in order to make the best tea possible.
Roasted Tsui Yu Oolong Tea. You typically need to use less tea leaves when brewing roasted oolongs
Brewing Oolong Tea in a Gaiwan Tea Set
A gaiwan (蓋碗/盖碗) literally means “lidded” bowl in Chinese and and usually comes with a saucer on which it sits. Brewing tea in a gaiwan is pretty much the same as brewing in a teapot in that it is a similar size, and the same proportions are recommended. You can adjust the amount of tea used, and the time of steeping to suit your particular taste.
Grandpa Style Tea Brewing
While Gong Fu brewing is about small vessels and the ratio of tea leaves to water combined with the brewing time, Grandpa brewing is about using less leaves and more water for longer brewing times. Grandpa brewing tea is very suitable when drinking one serving of tea or when you don’t have the time to hassle with all the ceremony and steps of Gong Fu brewing. To brew tea Grandpa style, simply put some loose leaf tea into a mug with a proportion of about 1:40 tea leaves to water (ex. 9g/350ml), and fill with boiling water. Tip: Refill with hot water whenever the brew becomes too strong, or you just want to warm up and top off your mug of tea.
Large Pitcher Hot or Iced Tea
If you are preparing tea for larger gatherings of 10 or more people, and you don’t want to be occupied with brewing tea while entertaining your guests, you can pre-brew your tea and have it ready to pour whenever the time is right. You also have the option to brew the tea leaves in a larger quantity with hot water, then put the brewed tea in the fridge or on ice (for a picnic) to prep for serving iced tea.
For this method, we recommend a ratio of 1:50 tea leaves to water. So 20g/L of boiling temperature water. Simply put the leaves in whatever vessel you want to brew the tea in — a large English style teapot, glass pitcher, of French press works well. Fill up the vessel containing the right amount of tea leaves with 100°C water, and let it brew for about 10 minutes. Pour off the brew tea to strain the tea leaves, and either keep it hot in a thermos, or chill it to pour over ice later. This way you can have quality brewed tea, either hot or cold, for as many people as you want to serve!
Cold Brew Tea
Cold brew tea is steeping tea with room temperature or cold water and there are just a few easy steps to cold brew tea. Since you’re not using hot water, it’ll take longer for the flavor of the tea to diffuse into the water but you’ll also leave out much of the caffeine. Caffeine is highly soluble in hot water, so cold brewing may be best for you if you’re worried about drinking too much caffeine in your Oolong Tea. Check out our article about how much caffeine is in Oolong Tea to find out more about this.
You can cold brew virtually any type of loose leaf tea, and you can experiment to find which type of tea has the best results. Measure the tea leaves in proportion to the amount of water you will use. We suggest starting with 1:150. For example, about 7g tea leaves to 1000ml water. Don't have a scale? Start with 1-2 tablespoons of tea leaves for one liter of water. Let it brew for a minimum of 2-3 hours at room temperature, or put it in the fridge overnight to be ready to drink the next day. Refill as needed.
Cold brewing is extremely flexible in the amount of tea used: A little tea goes a long way, and it's hard to over-brew!
Try Each Method
How you brew your tea is up to each person's preference. We recommend you try each of the methods above to see which you like best and adjust the amount of tea and brewing time to suit your taste. There you have it! The major ways to brew loose leaf Oolong Tea!
By the way, check this out if you're curious how oolong tea is made from harvest to processing.
Let Us Know What You Think!
So, what's your favorite way to brew tea? Are there any ways we missed? If there's something we didn't cover or if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below!
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