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How to Prepare Oolong Tea

By Daniel Reid

Bestselling author & leading expert on eastern philosophy, Taiwanese tea & TCM.

  1. Place your teapot on a bamboo tray, ideally a "tea-box" style tray, or in a flat shallow bowl to catch the spillover water during preparation. We recommend a slotted bamboo tray as shown in the picture.

  2. Keep a kettle of hot water simmering within easy reach, either in a stoneware, heatproof glass, or stainless steel kettle. The water should be barely simmering, not at a rolling boil. We recommend a purpose-built stoneware tea kettle.
  3. Remove the lid of your teapot and pour in some hot water to pre-heat the pot, replace the lid, let it heat for a few seconds, then pour the water into your holding pitcher or second teapot to pre-heat that.
  4. Using a scoop, transfer enough tea leaf from your tea caddy or direct into the teapot, adding enough to fill the pot about a fifth to a quarter full, more or less. If you use too little tea, you will not obtain full flavor.
  5. Pour enough hot water onto the tea in the pot to fill about half full, quickly replace lid, swirl it around once, and quickly pour out and discard the water. This is the pre-wash step, not for drinking. (Note: when using the finest grades of organically grown High Mountain Oolong from Taiwan, if you are certain the tea is organic, you may skip the pre-wash)
  6. Remove the lid & pour in enough hot water to fill the pot to the brim, replace lid (this will cause water to spillover and that is OK), and let it steep for about 45 seconds, more or less. Steeping time determines the strength of the brew and is a matter of personal taste, dependent also on how much tea you use and what number infusion you are on, but don't leave it too long or it will become bitter.
  7. Pour the steeped tea from the pot into a second holding teapot or tea pitcher. If using a strainer, place the strainer over the pitcher or pot before pouring. To pour with one hand, hold the handle between thumb and middle and ring finger, with the tip of the index finger on the knob on the lid to prevent the lid from falling off at the end of the pour.
  8. Pour the tea from the pitcher or holding pot into the teacup(s). Serve to your guests and invite them to enjoy. 
  9. After pouring out the tea, remove the lid of the brewing pot and refill to the brim with hot water, replace the lid, and let it steep again for 45-60 seconds, more or less, then pour the tea into the pitcher or holding pot, and repeat the process. With high-grade Taiwan tea, you can get 6-8 infusions from one portion of tea leaf. The wet tea leaves should fully stuff the pot after the second infusion. If not, you did not use enough dry leaf to start.
  10. After the fourth or fifth infusion, use the pointed tool to gently loosen the tea leaves by sliding the tool down along the inside of the pot and lifting upward. Use the tea tweezers (tea chopsticks) to remove and discard the fully expanded leaves which come out over the rim of the pot. This allows enough room inside for the remaining leaves to fully expand and release their full flavor.
  11. When the tea stops producing flavor and fragrance (if it's a true Taiwan oolong of decent quality this will be after the sixth to eighth infusion), use the tweezers to pull all the spent leaves out of the pot, then add some hot water, swirl it around inside the pot, and pour it out. Never wash or wipe the inside of the pot, just swirl clean with hot water.
  12. While the pot is still warm, use the tea towel to polish the outside surface to eliminate any water spots and rub the residual tea oils into the clay. This will gradually produce a lustrous patina on the exterior surface of the pot. Also polish the lid, then place the lid at a slight angle in the pot, so that there is a space between lid and brim for air to circulate and dry the inside of the pot. If you seal the lid while the inside is still wet, dampness and fermentation will produce unpleasant odors in the pot.

    Set the pot on the tray to dry. Pour some hot water into the holding teapot or pitcher and into each used cup, swirl to clean, and discard the water. Dry with the tea towel, or simply turn them upside down on the tray to drip dry.

    Set the entire tray in a safe place until your next tea session.


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