Posted by: dan | September 1, 2009

waltzing oolong (part 5)


Dan: Four oolongs down and one left to review to conclude this mini-series. As I said in part four I do have more oolongs now so there will be further reviews. For the purposes of this experiment there’s only this one left.

So far I’ve had positive and negative experiences but mostly they’ve all been a bit average. I failed to see what’s so special about oolongs until I tried Lahloo’s Jade Green last week. With that revelation and experience still fresh in my mind, I’m going to finish the series with Jing’s Yellow Gold oolong.

Those of you who have been reading our posts since the start and have a good memory will remember that this tea was one available in the Jing Tea Explorer Set. Yes, I’ve still not got around to reviewing some of those very first teas we got in order to take our first few brave steps into the tea world. This was put to one side for so long because of my reluctance to get involved with oolong. For me this symbolises the big challenge, the last hurdle, the tea to cement my opinion on oolongs. I know my reasoning makes little sense but neither do most of the things I do.

Again, the leaves are very large when unfurled.

Again, the leaves are very large when unfurled.

With the Jade Green I discovered oolongs tend to taste better after they’ve cooled. As I’ve just brewed a cup, I decided to take a sip while it was still warm for the sake of comparison. I wasn’t expecting to like it. And actually, it tastes pretty good. It definitely needs a bit more time to develop properly but the flavour isn’t so watery, veggie, or bitter. It’s a little sweet and a little grassy – there’s also a hint of spices to it. Hmm.

While I wait for it to cool, let me tell you about the smell. It wasn’t particularly nice. The dried leaves smell a bit funky and full of the traditional oolong bitterness. This made it doubly surprising that it should taste so pleasant while still warm. I was really expecting it to have all gone wrong for the big oolong finale, but it seems (so far) that I’m mistaken. The same smell is all over the drink as well, though it is a little lighter than it was on the loose leaves.

Are all oolongs this colour?

Are all oolongs this colour?

Now that it’s sufficiently cooled that it will have developed, let’s try it again. It’s slightly nuttier now and the bitterness is starting to come through. I think I preferred it hot which is confusing. The taste still has a sweet sappiness and there’s a flavour I can only describe as how I imagine fennel must taste like. It’s still quite tasty but it has a strange ‘iron’ aftertaste which is not as nice. This is an oolong which is actually much tastier when it’s hot. That’s a direct contrast to how I felt about oolongs after last week!

Everything I’ve discovered over the last few weeks has led me to a few conclusions.

Firstly: oolongs are a challenging tea. There seems to be no single best method for making them – they all have an individuality which seems more complex than I’ve found between different black teas or white teas for example. Obviously all teas are unique but oolongs don’t seem to have a solitary binding ‘theme’ they all share.

Two: They need time, care and attention. The chances of finding an oolong you like straight away seems remote and even then you’re not likely to make it/drink it exactly how you like it for a while either. Different amounts of leaves; different temperatures; different cooling periods: all have a different result on the tea and all will have a different bearing on how much you like them.

Lastly: You can’t expect anything from them. They’re constantly surprising which I think is probably my favourite thing about them. After 5 different oolongs I don’t feel like I’ve made any progress towards understanding them and as much as that irritates me I also find it fascinating that they require so much work. I know proper teas aren’t always straightforward but oolongs seem purposely designed to make you work at finding out how you like it (or not). As such, they must be a very personal drink – what is good for one person could be the exact opposite for someone else even though it’s made from the same leaves. While this is of course true for nearly everything I feel that in the case of oolongs it’s hard to recommend them for having a particular flavour.

While it’s therefore hard to recommend an oolong based on flavour, it’s easy to recommend experimentation. Find what you like and how you like it – it won’t be quick and easy but it should be worth it. When they’re good, they’re great. Oh, and I know these 5 have mostly been floral, aromatic oolongs but they’re all I had to experiment with – and to an extent, that’s the point. I shall try ‘harder’ oolongs in the future and report back here with my results. For now I’m happy to play around a bit longer.

Dan was drinking Jing’s Yellow Gold Oolong, available at ¬£4.90 for 50g, or as a part of their Tea Explorer Set.



  1. For a moment there you seemed to be quite American to me. I too appreciate Oolongs better when they’re cooled down. Of course I drink almost all my tea either room temp or colder. It’s just a habit for me but there’s no tea I prefer hot anymore. –Spirituality of Tea

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