Black tea is created by allowing the leaf to oxidize and turn dark. Green and white teas are created by not allowing the leaf to oxidize. But within the Oolong tea category, the leaf is allowed oxidation at varying levels. There are the “greener” Oolongs, oxidized at 12%-20% and the “darker” Oolongs, oxidized anywhere between 40%-70%. In my photo, I have just brewed a cup of Formosa “Tung Ting” Oolong, a greener Oolong which looks very light in the cup, much like green tea. I am in constant awe that a leaf that is picked from the very same plant can produce such different flavors depending on what happens after that leaf is picked. In addition to its processing, soil conditions also contribute to the tea’s ultimate flavor. To produce an Oolong tea, the leaves are laid out in the sun after picking and allowed a “partial withering”. In other words, the leaves shrivel up. Then they are placed in large bamboo baskets and shaken up periodically to bruise the leaf which allows even oxidation. Oxidation naturally occurs by allowing the leaves exposure to fresh air. To halt the oxidation, the leaves are heated by pan roasting. Knowing exactly when to heat the leaf is a skill that comes from years of experience. Tea masters participate in processing competitions to demonstrate their skill in this fine art. So, in a way, knowing when a tea’s oxidation is complete is like knowing when a piece of artwork is finished. All of the elements are just right and its full expression has been manifested.
A very common way to brew Oolong tea is called “Gong Fu” style. In this method of brewing the tea, a small unglazed ceramic teapot is used and the tea leaves are brewed in multiple short infusions as many as 5-8 times. First, fresh spring water is heated to just under the boiling point, ideally 185-205 Fahrenheit. The teapot is filled 1/4-1/3 with tea leaves and water is added to the halfway point. This water is not for infusing but for rinsing the leaves to rid them of any tea dust. It also allows the tea leaves to “awaken” and start to unfurl. This water is poured off after 10 seconds and then the teapot is immediately filled with water again for the first drinking infusion. The leaves are brewed for 30 seconds-1 minute for the first infusion. Each subsequent infusion lengthens the brewing time. This can always be adjusted to personal taste. Since 80% of the caffeine is extracted within the first 30 seconds of steeping time, each subsequent infusion will be decaffeinated. Even the caffeine sensitive can drink this tea all day and not worry about sleeping at night!
There are so many different flavor notes among Oolong teas from the aromatic, flowery greener Oolongs to the dark chestnut, woody Oolongs. The Silvertip and Fancy Formosa Oolongs have a fruitiness to them reminiscent of a ripe peach. So, drinking an Oolong can be much like an aromatherapy experience, sure to sooth and comfort even on the most stressful of days.
What are your experiences with Oolong tea?
I’ve been beading away at my June journal page and enjoying every minute. This has certainly turned into an inner journey of discovery. I had an idea at the beginning and then found that it evolved as I placed each bead on the fabric. This symbolizes the loss of my physical garden when I moved 3 1/2 years ago. I was an avid gardener so that was very hard for me. Living on the 4th floor of an apartment building now doesn’t offer me the opportunity to have a garden at this time. So, my garden exists in my heart. There is a “heartbreak path” running down the center of my heart. The path of heartbreak led me to my center, represented by the pearl. The rays flowing out from my center illuminate all of the colorful flowers in my heart’s garden. Last night I added the pink petal beads on the outside of the heart. These remind me of little wings. I’m not sure if I’m going to bead around them or just leave them as they are. I’ll add more “wings” around the heart. It’s almost done!
Recently, there was a discussion among my guildmates in the Rhode Island Polymer Clay guild about how to motivate oneself to do a tedious task in the creation of a piece of artwork. Some of the suggestions offered – go do something else for awhile and then come back to your task for a fresh perspective or, if you can, do something else you enjoy while you are doing the tedious task. The tedious task in question was the sanding of polymer clay. It can be a rather lengthy process, especially if done by hand, which involves working your way through various sandpaper grits from 400 to 600 to 800 to 1000. There are also higher grits of 1200, 1500 and 2000, if you choose to use those to achieve an amazing glass-like finish. The higher the number, the finer the grit. It can also be messy because water is used to cut down on the polymer clay dust. And the water needs to be changed with each progressive grit. I’ve been known to sand my fingers and fingernails so it can also be somewhat dangerous. So, tedious, lengthy, messy, dangerous. Sounds great, huh? I am more of a “process” person as opposed to an “end product” person. In other words, I enjoy the process, the journey, the learning about myself along the way. So, following this logic, I would naturally enjoy the sanding process despite its hazards and unpleasantness. Well….to be honest….I don’t really but what I do enjoy is what I do get to do while I’m sanding. The gentle motion of the sandpaper as it glides over my piece is a meditative activity that allows my mind to just go blank and rest from its usual thought buzzing. Picture a swarm of bees reduced to one lazy little bee serenely floating around. Without the control and distractions of all of the other bees, my little bee can even stop and rest for awhile on a beautiful flower.
Now it is very quiet and I begin to sense a sinking deeper inside of myself. So, in my tedious task lies a gift, an opportunity to escape from my daily thoughts and schedule of “to-dos” and just BEE and listen to what is inside. When I return from my inner journeying, I discover a wonderful thing has happened. My piece is all shiny now! I’ve worked hard – it’s time for a piece of chocolate.