Monday 8 June 2009

Embrace the Blues

Oolong tea leaves cupWhen my partner bought me a tea tasting day as a birthday present last year I was really excited. Although I was no regular tea drinker I had been to my fair share of tea shops, and even one or two Chinese tea houses; I was really looking forward to learning a bit more. But I was in no way prepared to discover a whole new type of tea. Of course I'd heard of green tea; white tea? - sure I'd even tried it; black teas? - well obviously, didn't we all grow up with them at home? But blue tea?- what?! When the Master Tea Blender gave it its other name, oolong, I realised I had heard of it but I really had no idea what it was.

And then came the next bombshell. He explained that the primary difference between green, black and blue tea was the length of time the leaves were oxidised before the drying process. I'd always thought that green and black teas just came from totally different plants - like the difference between a Braeburn and a Granny Smith tree - but that's not actually what gives the tea its colour. Green tea comes from leaves that are immediately dried after they have been cut or rolled; black tea leaves have been left to oxidise - much as a cut apple or banana would - for around an hour; oolong, or blue tea, leaves have also been left to oxidise but for, roughly speaking, only about half an hour.

OK, all very interesting, but what did this oolong taste like? Well, it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say it blew me away. The flavour, unsurprisingly, was somewhere between a green and black tea: fragrant, light, but with a bit of oomph. It was refreshing but also invigorating in the way that a morning cuppa can be. I immediately went out and bought a packet and haven't looked back since.

I'll happily drink it anytime but I find it a real boon at work. Like everyone else I absolutely hate those machine teas and coffees; and I was bored stiff of fruit and herb teabags. So, I put a spoonful of oolong into my little tea infuser (a rather twee but highly useful little house on a chain!) each morning. Later, at work, I pop it into a cup of water that is hot but not boiling so as not to scorch the leaves, infuse for about 3 minutes and then drink the delicious tea! And the beauty of oolong, like green teas, is that, as long as you don't leave them sitting in water, you get at least 3 infusions from each serving of leaves - in fact I find the tea gets better by the 2nd or 3rd brew. I very rarely drink more than 3 hot drinks during a working day so it's perfect for me. And you don't have it with milk so you can avoid the whole is it off or not sniff by the fridge. I know you may be thinking that it sounds like a bit of a faff, but aside from remembering to fill your infuser before you leave the house and washing it out when you get home it's really no bother at all.

But wherever you drink your hot drinks I would urge you to give blue teas a try. There are, of course, a whole gamut of oolongs to choose from, but in the first instance, just get hold of some good quality medium strength leaves and see what you think. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


  1. I caved at Tesco today and bought yet another herbal for work - 'Pukka Detox' organic aniseed, fennel and cardamom. Not sure if it is going to be that different to my usual liquorice bags and am concerned by the Jamie Oliverness of the name.... So I need to purchase some oolong! Where would you recommend? Do supermarkets sell it or is it a mite specialist? Really like the idea of being able to use the leaves up to 3 times - that is absolutely enough to get me through my 9 til 5. Where did you get the tea house (for your soul) infuser from?

  2. My little house is sold by Amazon for £3.99, and there's a similar little teapot for the same price. I like them because although they're twee and you can get much funkier ones, said design items don't come with a tray to sit the infuser on which is useful when keeping on your desk between infusions.

    But this company sells both tea and infusers if you want a one-stop-shop:
    They have various oolongs for around £5-6 for 100g which is pretty good and will last for ages.

  3. "Tea that requires milk is not really tea." Discuss.

  4. Hmmmnnn. Not sure I agree with you there Stevie. That may have to be a topic for a future blog...

  5. "Bit of a faff"? "Twee"? You may want to consider providing a translation for us uneducated Americans. Minor comprehension issues aside, your homage to tea is lovely.