Blog 167: Is It Normal That Oolong Tea Soup Looks “Red”?

In case you haven’t noticed, most tea categories are named after colors. The most famous ones are green tea, black tea, and white tea. Although teas are named after colors, different teas got their color for different reasons.

For example, green tea is named after the color of the tea soup; white tea is named after the “fine white hair” on fresh leaves. Black tea’s naming is slightly tricky because in Chinese, it’s named after the color of the tea soup. Therefore, black tea’s original name in Chinese is actually “RED” tea (红茶, pronunciation: Hong Cha). In English, black tea is named after the color of dry leaves because European tea traders did not have the opportunity to sample the tea, so they named the tea after the color of dry leaves.


Among all tea categories that are named after colors, oolong tea is extremely unique. First of all, its English name is really just the pronunciation of its original name is Chinese (乌龙, pronunciation: Wu Long, meaning: Dark Dragon). Secondly, it has the most exclusive producing area and the most complex tea-making process.

The lack of a “color” often puzzles tea lovers. What should be the standard Oolong tea soup color? Is it normal that an oolong tea looks “red”?

First, we need to set the record straight, oolong tea products should never have a red color. Most Wuyi oolong (also called rock tea, Yan Cha/岩茶, oolong produced in northern Fujian) should have a bright orange color, and some heavily roasted products such as Rou Gui and Shui Xian might also have a dark amber color. Other oolong teas related to southern Fujian oolong (such as Tie Guan Yin and its siblings) have a light greenish yellow color.

Some tea lovers might ask why some of their oolong products look “red” when infused? Based on our experience, there are 3 major reasons.


1. Over-fermentation

Oolong tea is half-fermented. The level of fermentation affects the overall color of the tea soup. With more fermentation, tea leaves transform and develop more thearubigins and theabrownin. As a result, fully fermented leaves make the tea soup red.

The color of a oolong tea soup, on the other hand, should not look red. There are 2 major elements that affect oolong’s tea soup color: the level of fermentation and the strength of the roast.

Heavier the roast, darker the tea soup color. For example, light roast oolong usually have a bright golden color; medium roast are bright orange color; heavy roast are dark amber color.

The strength of the roast is related to the intensity of the color. A heavily roasted oolong product can have a dark color tea soup, but definitely not a red one.

Another way to determinate whether an oolong is over-fermented is checking the aroma of the tea once it is infused. If you notice a distinct black tea aroma, it’s usually an indication of over-fermentation.


2. Wrong infusing/brewing method

Over-steeping, or suffocative steeping (please see Blog for details) will lead to a red tea soup color.

Oolong tea leaves commonly turn bad after 3 minutes of steeping time. Under this condition, tea leaves release an excessive amount of thearubigins, which turns the tea soup red.

Or, if oolong leaves are brewed, they’d also develop similar symptoms that releases excessive thearubigins.


3. Tea leaves are exposed to light

Finished oolong tea products can be oxidized by exposing to natural light. When dry oolong leaves are over-oxidized, they turn a little bit red. As the result, the tea soup would become red as well.

Tea lovers familiar with our Dupont store would know that most of our retail teas are packaged in smaller individual bags. This is a standard practice for premium tea products. Small bags have the exact amount for one serving. Therefore, we don’t need to risk exposing leaves to the light and the moisture in the air every time we open a container and take leaves out of it.


Small packaging solves a very practical issue: tea leaves going bad in storage.

Oolong tea is not black tea, so it shouldn’t look red. If you find that your oolong tea soup looks too red, you should pay more attention to the cause. I hope this blog can help you discover and solve some problems you might have with oolong tea.

We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at zhang@valleybrooktea.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!

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