The most common OOLONG question is whether it is a green tea or a black tea. Actually, oolong tea is neither. Oolong is an independent tea category. It has a completely different tea-making process. In fact, oolong has the most complicated tea-making techniques. It’s often considered as the crown jewel of all teas by tea makers.
Despite this, some tea lovers still believe oolong belongs to green tea because the oolong they’ve tasted has a distinct green tea flavor.
If oolong is an independent tea category and has unique tea-making steps, how can an oolong taste like a green tea?
To answer this question, we must first understand how a green tea is made and what a green tea tastes like.
Green tea is one the easiest to make. To make green tea, there are only 3 major steps: harvesting, nature drying and hot stir-drying. Since there’re no other complex techniques involved, green tea retains the character of fresh green leaves. This is why green tea has a fresh “grassy” flavor that’s slightly bitter with a sweet aftertaste.
Oolong tea, however, is half-fermented and roasted. Oolong tea usually tastes floral, fruity, and has a thick mouthfeel. Even if some oolong teas have a “grassy” flavor, the taste should be quite light. In no circumstances should a oolong have a “strong and refreshing green tea taste”.
If a oolong does have a green tea taste, it’s usually caused by either bad tea-making or bad storage.
As we’ve introduced, one of the most crucial oolong tea-making steps is the roasting process (please see the end of the blog for a complete list of related blogs). The roasting process is not a one-time procedure. It involves many rounds and stages of roasting. Depending on the particular oolong tea product, some oolong are roasted less, and some are roasted more.
In general, a normal oolong tea is roasted at least tens of hours in a closed, regulated environment (in roast room).
The “green tea taste” of oolong is the result of insufficient or unqualified roasting process.
Some tea makers, for time-saving and cost control purposes, simplify the roasting process by reducing the roasting workload, roasting leaves outdoors or employing a technique called “Zou Shui Bei” (Chinese: 走水焙, literal meaning: walking-water roast).
The original purpose of “Zou Shui Bei” is to accelerate the withering process so that the water content in fresh leaves can be reduced at a faster pace. Fundamentally, this process is part of the withering.
If a oolong tea has only “Zou Shui Bei” but no real “roasting”, it’s not a oolong, not even a lightly roasted oolong. This unfinished oolong often behaves and tastes like a green tea.
Another reason that an oolong might taste like a green tea is the bad storage. Roasted oolong tea leaves are highly dehydrated. If moisture gets into the package, damp tea leaves would acquire a “grassy” taste. To inexperienced tea drinkers, this bad taste (grassy taste) might be associated with green tea, too.
This is why some oolong taste like green tea. In reality, oolong and green tea are two entirely different kinds of tea. Oolong has its own tea-making, aromas and tastes.
Cutting corners in tea-making or bad storage make an oolong lose its own characters. An oolong without its iconic aromas and tastes is no longer a true oolong. It becomes an outlier.
(Of course, if you really like the taste of a tea, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a green tea or a oolong tea. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t be the excuse for a badly made tea pretending to be something else.)
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