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Why Some Oolongs Taste Like Green Tea (And Some Taste Like Black Tea)


photo: www.flickr.com/photos/liz/497009071/

Do you know anyone who constantly overcooks their steak? They stand over the grill with an indecisive face, consistently poking at the food asking “Do you think it’s done yet?”

I, personally, am talking about my friend Ryan. It doesn’t matter ifI tell him I like my steak medium rare, it always comes out close to well done. This really isn’t a big deal, but he has people over to his place and cooks steak all the time.

It used to be frustrating, but then I thought about it and decided to take a different approach. The next time I saw Ryan I asked him to cook my steak so it looks bright red (the color of medium rare) in the center. His reaction was “Dude, that is raw steak!” With this, I figured out the problem.

The Problem was the Terminology

We both have a common term when cooking steak, “medium.” The issue is that medium encompasses a large range when cooking steak. In basic terms, medium is between raw and fully cooked. Ryan might not agree with me, but there is a huge gap between the two.

This gap doesn’t apply only to steak, it also applies to tea. With tea, there are green and white teas which are barely oxidized (or “cooked”). At the opposite end of the spectrum there are black teas which are fully oxidized. The large gap between barely and fully oxidized is where you will find oolongs.

Oolongs are Partially Oxidized

Oxidation is the process that turns tea leaves different colors. It is the same concept that turns an unripe green banana into a sweet yellow banana. If you applied a percentage to different oxidation levels in tea, green and white teas would be under 20% and black tea would be above 80%.

Oolong teas would cover the range from 20% – 80%.

The Broad Range Gives Two Basic Styles of Oolongs

This is why some oolongs taste like green tea and some taste closer to black tea. Think about this in terms of steak. A medium rare steak is closer to “raw” than fully cooked, similar to a green oolong. On the other hand, a medium well steak is closer to fully cooked, similar to a black oolong.

The Different Styles of Oolongs

Green Oolongs (list increasing in oxidation)

- Pouchong
- Ali Shan
- Dong Ding
- Ti Guan Yin

“Medium” Oolongs

- Dan Cong

Dark Oolongs (list increasing in oxidation)

- Bai Hao
- Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao)

Summary

Before purchasing oolong tea, make sure you are aware of the oxidation level, otherwise you might be in for a big surprise. The easiest way is to ask if it is a “green oolong” or a “black oolong.” While you’re at it you may also want to order your steak by color, especially if Ryan is cooking.

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