The Oolong Tea Manufacturing Process Explained – A Condensed Guide

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea has become very popular in the past few decades, with more and more people making it their primary hot beverage. Now whether it’s because of the refreshing taste or the numerous health benefits, what we cannot deny is that the popularity of oolong tea is at soaring heights. In fact, in 2017 more than 11,000 tons of oolong tea was consumed, in Japan alone. While the data on global consumption is scarce, it is safe to assume that the consumption levels are extraordinary.

Even though so many people enjoy oolong tea, there are very few who understand how much hard work and dedication go into the manufacturing process. This short guide will walk you through that process, so you can develop an appreciation for the tea that all of us enjoy so much.

So without further ado, let’s go! 


After the crop has grown to its fullest, harvesting takes place and the leaves of the oolong tea plant are placed in the sunlight to draw out excess moisture. This part of the process is known as withering and it is important because if any excess moisture is retained, then the remaining stages of the manufacturing process will be of no effect. It takes a keen eye to ensure withering is carried out properly and sometimes experts use handcrafted baskets to shake the leaves and further remove moisture.

Now, withering may seem as simple as just leaving leaves in the sun and shaking them in a basket, but a great degree of skill and experience is required as a number of factors are at play. If you remove too much moisture then the leaves will lose their flavor and you need to keep an eye on different elements such as temperature, humidity, light intensity, and wind direction. 


The next stage of the process is called “fixing” whereby the leaves are put through immense heat to halt the oxidation process. The heat kills the enzymes responsible for this oxidation and it is important to do so as continued oxidation will affect the flavor of the tea, leading to a somewhat bitter taste. In fact, the signature taste of oolong tea starts to develop at this stage and it is important that temperatures are kept in control. 


Once the leaves have been “fixed”, the rolling stage begins. This gives oolong tea leaves the curved shape that you normally find on your table and the bruising of the leaves activates the essential oils in the leaves and further brings out the flavor of the tea. Rolling also makes the leaves more presentable for consumer use. However, the purpose is more than just aesthetic. If leaves are not rolled then your leaves will be in long strands which will be a nightmare to handle when you’re steeping your tea.


Finally, there is the sorting stage. Leaves are categorized in different forms, such as loose-leaf oolong, ground, and tea bags, and packed for consumer use or towards suppliers. Leaves are also sorted according to quality as some vendors are bound to pay extra for higher quality tea. However, if the farmer and tea cultivators are halfway decent, they’ll make a respectable cup of oolong tea regardless of form or quality.

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