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What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?

woman holding oolong tea cup in bed with notebook

Welcome to the Sensory World of Oolong Tea

Have you tried Oolong Tea before? If not, you're in for a delightful surprise!

This traditional beverage, cherished in China and Taiwan, is known for its unique processing method and diverse range of flavours, which can offer a truly enchanting experience for your taste buds.

Welcome to Chimney & Tea’s guide on the taste of oolong tea. We will explore factors affecting its flavour, aroma, and textures, such as the growing region, harvesting season, and processing techniques.

Whether you're a seasoned tea enthusiast or are curious to try oolong for the very first time, our tasting guide and tasting wheel infographic below will help you to explore and enjoy the rich and dynamic sensory world of oolong tea. You will learn to identify the subtle nuances and complexities that make each cup of oolong tea a memorable experience. Let’s begin!

Flavour: What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?

First things first: what does oolong tea taste like?

oolong tea tasting wheel infographic

Oolong tea offers an intricate flavour profile, a unique blend of nutty, fresh, and floral notes. This creates a layered taste that is truly unparalleled.

Often considered both sweet and bitter, oolong presents a variety of flavours as it interacts with our taste buds. Many even describe the taste as umami due to its delicious, mood-lifting effects.

These flavours can come one after another, with each flavour tasted in a clear order, or all at once, allowing many flavours to be experienced simultaneously, creating a rich and complex experience.

Is Oolong Tea Sweet or Bitter?

On the one hand, many tea drinkers appreciate oolong tea for its distinctly sweet taste, which is derived from a substance called l-theanine, a type of amino acid found in the tea.

This type of sweetness differs from regular sugar or sweeteners. While some describe oolong's flavour as "honey-like" or fruity, it has a unique sweetness all its own. Unlike the simple sweetness of sugar, oolong tea has a more complex taste. Its sweetness can remind you of ripe fruits, delicate flowers, and a touch of honey, all mixed together. This unique sweetness makes oolong tea special, providing a taste experience that is both gentle and very satisfying.

On the other hand, oolong can also sometimes taste slightly bitter. In good quality oolong tea, the initial bitterness quickly transforms into a delightful sweetness upon swallowing. The smooth and pleasant transition from bitter to sweet enhances the overall drinking experience, and is one of the defining features of high-grade oolong, making it a favourite among tea connoisseurs.

However, oolong tea may also turn bitter if it's over-steeped, if too many leaves are used, or if the water temperature is too high, causing the leaves to "burn." The natural sweetness and bitterness of oolong generally evolve with each steep, as it can be re-steeped multiple times.

Does Oolong Tea Generally Not Have a Very Strong Taste?

While the taste of oolong tea can range from light to rich, it is generally not considered to have a strong or overpowering taste. Instead, oolong tea is appreciated for its complex, yet balanced flavours which offer a soothing and refreshing experience. These flavours can be floral, fruity, or even slightly earthy, depending on the specific variety and how it is processed.

Additionally, oolong tea is often enjoyed for its aromatic qualities, which can enhance the overall drinking experience. The nuanced taste and aroma make it a favourite among tea enthusiasts who seek a beverage that is both intriguing and satisfying, without being too intense.

Aroma: What Does Oolong Tea Smell Like?

roses, orchids, jasmine

The aroma of oolong tea is a delightfully complex blend of various scent notes, offering a unique sensory experience that will immediately uplift your spirits. At first encounter, the primary scent is distinctly nutty, which provides a warm, welcoming base. This is quickly complemented by a fresh note that adds an invigorating twist to the aroma, making the tea feel light and refreshing.

The floral undertones however, are what truly set oolong tea apart. These delicate, floral notes are similar to a vibrant bouquet of flowers in bloom. To many tea lovers, oolong is specifically reminiscent of the enchanting fragrances of osmanthus, orchids, roses, or jasmine. The combination of these scents creates a truly immersive tea-drinking experience that engages the senses and enhances the overall enjoyment of this beloved beverage.

Texture: What Does Oolong Tea Feel Like?

dry vs. wet oolong tea leaves

The texture or mouthfeel of oolong is another sensation that many tea drinkers pay attention to. Just like how wine drinkers categorize light, medium, or full bodies of wine, oolong can be described in terms of how it feels in the mouth upon consumption.

The texture of oolong tea varies widely, but can generally be divided into the following:

  • Dry and astringent
  • Light-bodied
  • Silky, velvety, mouth-watery (Spring Glow High Mountain Oolong Tea, Cottage Retreat High Mountain Oolong Tea)
  • Creamy, milky (Sunset Stroll High Mountain Oolong Black Tea)

The mouthfeel categories we frequently refer to provide a general understanding of the tea-drinking experience. However, remember that this is highly subjective. The feel of the tea in your mouth and its interaction with your taste buds can differ among individuals. These categories are just a starting point, as everyone's experience is unique.

What Affects the Taste & Aroma of Oolong Tea?

infographic of common factors that affect taste and aroma of oolong

Much like wine, the flavour profile of oolong tea is a complex interplay of factors, including the region where it's grown, the elevation of the tea garden, the specific variety of tea plant, the season of harvest, and the unique process of semi-oxidation that defines oolong tea.

Every cup of oolong tea reveals the story of its origin and its journey from the leaf to your cup.

Location & Climate

The tea region (geographical location where the tea is cultivated) plays a significant role in defining its taste. This is due to the variations in soil compositions and climates among regions, which affect the growth of tea plants and the qualities of the tea leaves. Not only does mineral-rich and well-drainage soil significantly influence the tea's flavour, environmental climate factors such as rainfall, sunlight, and temperature also play critical roles in shaping the tea's taste.

The most prominent oolong tea regions are South East China and Taiwan.

Alishan High Mountain

Alishan Mountain has rich rainfalls throughout most seasons. The ever-changing weather in the mountains, temperature gaps between day and night - cool air in the morning & night and warm during the day, fog and humidity in the high mountain regions cause the tea leaves to grow slower, making them thicker, fresh and tender, and rich in pectin. This is the key reason for high mountain tea’s taste quality and durability for re-steeping.

Fujian is another prominent tea region in the Southern part of China, yet it is warmer and contains high humidity, which allows for longer growing sessions at up to ten months a year. The tea that is grown in this region features robust and rich taste profiles.

Topography & Harvesting Seasons

Additionally, the topography (land arrangement in physical form and features), presence of other plants and trees, and even the tea region’s altitude, also influence the taste of oolong tea.

Teas cultivated at higher altitudes often possess a sweeter and more robust flavour, attributed to the slower growth of the tea plants. Tea grown in an area above 3280.84 ft. (1000 meters) is classified as “High Mountain Tea (Gaoshan Tea)”.

Alishan High Mountain Tea Plantation Farms

For example, Chimney & Tea’s oolong is cultivated in Shihzhiao, Alishan, Taiwan, which is an area at the impressive altitude of 1300 meters in the Alishan mountain range located in the southern part of Taiwan. This region is renowned for its ideal climate and fertile soil, which provide the perfect conditions for growing high-quality oolong. The elevation ensures a cooler environment, contributing to the unique flavour profile and rich aroma of the tea leaves cultivated here.

Winter and spring-harvested high mountain tea has exceptionally superior quality. During the colder seasons, the tea plants provide more carbohydrates to the leaves to stimulate growth. This concentration of carbohydrates leads to a sweeter, smoother, yet complex taste profile and floral aromatic characters, as opposed to an astringent and bitter taste.

Processing & Roasting

The processing techniques used in oolong tea production are crucial factors that influence its taste. The steps of withering, bruising, oxidation, and firing transform fresh tea leaves into the final product. Adjusting each step can create different flavours and aromas in the tea.

traditional tea makers bruising and firing tea leaves during processing

The skills and experience involved in tea processing combine artisanship and craftsmanship. Tea-making skills, knowledge, and tradition are often passed down from generation to generation. Tea masters need excellent intuition, knowing how to process each batch of tea based on the leaves and weather conditions. They must carefully monitor each step and adjust their approach during the 2-3 days of non-stop tea making. 

Chimney & Tea’s processing facility is just a few kilometres from our tea plantation. When our harvesters finish picking leaves for the season, they are transported to this facility for intensive processing. There are around four tea-making seasons each year, and our tea masters have been refining this process for over three decades through two generations.

Finally, the roasting of tea leaves is another crucial step that can significantly change the tea's flavour. This process is not just a simple step but a meticulous and time-consuming one that requires a great deal of expertise and attention to detail.

tea oxidation level during processing infographic

Roasting is a technique to reduce the humidity in the finished tea for preservation, however, it is also a way to add a warmer and toasty taste to the tea.

For instance, a light roast might result in a tea with delicate, nuanced notes, whereas a longer and more intense roast can bring out deeper, more complex flavours. A tea with high oxidation will have a rich, full-bodied taste, while one with low oxidation will be lighter and more subtle. Thus, mastering the art of roasting is essential for achieving the desired flavour profile in tea.

To learn more about the intricate world of tea production, delve into the tea making process at Chimney & Tea's high mountain family gardens in Alishan, Taiwan.

Brewing Water and Technique 

Water quality can be the make-or-break factor that affects the aroma and flavour of a tea.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Tea and Beverage Research Station of Taiwan, the pH level and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) of water affect the appearance and taste of tea. Some waters, such as filtered or distilled, can completely flatten the tea and make tea tasteless. This is because when tea leaves release its elements into the boiling water, it needs minerals in the water to coax out the flavour and aroma. 

Hence, the amount of tea leaves, water temperature, brewing vessel material, and steeping time all play a part in the tea’s flavour.

Taste Comparisons: What is Oolong Tea Similar To?

Those curious to try oolong for the first time may wonder, what does oolong tea taste similar to?

taste comparison chart of green vs black vs oolong tea vs coffee

Oolong is most often compared to black and green tea. It is similar to black tea in terms of its complex flavours and richness, but it also shares the lightness and freshness of green tea. However, the unique processing method of oolong tea, such as partial oxidation and roasting, gives it a distinct taste and aroma that sets it apart from both.

Does Oolong Tea Taste Like Green Tea?

dried green tea leaves in ceramic spoon

While oolong tea shares certain characteristics with green tea, such as a fresh and light flavour, oolong undergoes a unique process of partial oxidation and roasting. This gives oolong tea a wider range of flavours and a distinct taste that sets it apart from green tea.

Does Oolong Tea Taste Like Black Tea?

dried black tea leaves in spoon

While oolong and black tea share similarities due to their oxidation process, they possess distinct taste profiles. Oolong tea often has a more delicate and complex flavour compared to the robust and strong flavour of black tea.

Does Oolong Tea Taste Like Coffee?

coffee beans and ground coffee

Unlike coffee, oolong tea does not have a bitter, sharp, and bold flavour. It provides a more subtle and layered taste experience instead.

Roasted oolong, which has a darker colour and deeper flavour than lighter oolongs, might be the closest in comparison, but the taste and caffeine levels still differ significantly.

Does Oolong Tea Taste Like Seaweed?

seaweed in container

Oolong tea is not typically compared to the taste of seaweed.

However, certain types of oolong may have a slight vegetal or grassy flavour when it is minimally oxidized, which some individuals might liken to seaweed.

Oolong Tea Taste: Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Sweeten Oolong Tea?

sugar and sweeteners for tea

While adding sugar to oolong tea is a matter of personal preference, most enjoy it without any, in order to fully appreciate its natural, lingering sweetness. This is similar to how some people usually enjoy fine wine or whiskey on their own, rather than adding sweeteners to them.

In the case of oolong, generations of tea masters have perfected the skill of balancing and preserving the tea’s delightful flavour through complex processes — a unique artistry highly appreciated by seasoned tea drinkers.

Is It Normal for Oolong to Taste Sour?

Generally, oolong tea should not taste sour.

A sour taste could indicate that the tea leaves were not processed correctly or that the tea was over-steeped. However, some types of oolong tea may have a slight tangy flavour, which should not be mistaken for sourness.

What Does Roasted Oolong Tea Taste Like?

The art of tea roasting is a combination of traditional skills, science, decades of experience, and the spirit of pursuing the refinement of the tea making process.

infographic of light to medium roasting level oolong tea

Tea makers can use the roasting process to reduce the humidity in the final tea leaves for preservation purposes, as well as adjust the flavour of the tea and give it a warmer, nutty, chocolatey, or toasty flavour profile, depending on the roasting level.

infographic of Chimney & Tea oolong tea taste comparison chart

For instance:

  • Chimney & Tea’s Spring Glow Alishan High Mountain Oolong Tea undergoes a very light roasting process. This not only stabilizes the composition of the tea, preserving its aromatic, vibrant flavour profile that exists in the high mountain oolong tea from the Alishan region, but it also allows for the tea to have a longer shelf-life for optimal preservation.
  • Our Cottage Retreat High Mountain Oolong tea, on the other hand, undergoes a light to medium roasting process. As a result, its flavour profile is slightly more toasty and more nutty compared to our signature Spring Glow High Mountain Oolong tea.
  • Similar to the Cottage Retreat tea, our Sunset Stroll High Mountain Oolong “Black” tea also undergoes a light to medium roasting process, which gives it a rich and chocolatey taste profile. This makes it the ideal choice for those who prefer a deeper, slightly more full-bodied flavour in their tea.

Experience the Taste of Tradition: Shop Oolong Tea

woman holding tea bowl

Remember, the best way to appreciate the taste of oolong tea is to try it for yourself.

From our light and floral Spring Glow Oolong Tea to the rich and robust Sunset Stroll Oolong “Black” tea, there is sure to be a variety at Chimney & Tea that suits your palate.

Feeling adventurous? Try our Oolong Tea Trio bundle set for the full experience!

Explore Chimney & Tea’s collection of high-quality oolong teas and embark on your oolong tea tasting journey today. Happy tasting!