Tea Tasting 101 – What Does Wu Long Taste Like?

Wu long (oolong) teas have been described as “flowery”, “smooth”, “spicy”, “sweet and creamy”, “subtle orchid tastes”, “full tasting with a mellow aftertaste”…

Hmmm…makes you want to try some Wu long tea yourself! These terms are a good guideline for judging wu long (oolong)tea tastes; you’ll see these terms a lot if you experiment with different tea varieties.

I’m sure once you’ve tasted Wu long (oolong) tea brewed correctly, you might find these terms very fitting .

“…With all the talk about the health benefits of tea drinking we can easily forget about one of the best reasons to we drink tea – the complex and amazing taste!”

Remember, tea processing is an art not a science, which is why the taste and the subtle nuance in flavor and aroma in each batch varies ever so slightly.

Why is this? Wu long teas vary in taste mainly because of the firing process.

The longer fired Wu long teas are considerd more “bakey”. Short fired are more “peachlike” or “fruity”.

Over-firing tends to create an undesirable tasting tea; a baked taste, destroying the complex mellow beauty of a good oolong tea

Not to be confused with “High-fired” which is similar to “over fired” or “dried”, but not bakey or burned. An indication of good flavor.

For a good example of a fantastic tasting – high fired Taiwanese Wu Long, my first impression was that it had “bakey notes”, but not a burnt flavor. It’s since become one of my favorites, always complex and full bodied.

One thing to remember is that these taste terms describe the flavor range and are not absolutely good or bad. For example “bakey” is usually a negative term meaning burnt because of over firing during processing. However a slightly baked taste from just the right amount of firing is extremely pleasant to the taste!

This is where choosing an experienced tea vendor online with knowledge and plenty of experience is critical! One of the best online tea vendors Generation Tea.

They know how critical it is to evaluate teas on a batch by batch basis. They do a great job! They have always delivered the highest quality wu long teas.

What Influences Tea Taste

Tea taste is influenced by many factors: The time of year it’s picked, which leaves are picked, the processing, the actual growing region, and the knwledge of the vendor. These are all major influences in the final taste of whichever tea you enjoy whether Wu-long, green, Pu-erh etc…

The good news is there are such a wide variety of amazing tasting teas to be discovered that understanding what words are used to describe the taste is a big help in choosing a tea.

Let’s talk about descriptive terms related to all types of teas

Remember, this is subjective and varies from person to person!

Here are some basic tea taste concepts:

  • Aroma: The odor of the tea as it steams from your cup. The more complex the better, often called a “bouquet”.
  • Astringency: the polyphenols in tea (the healthy antioxidants) create a “puckery” sensation usually on the side of the tongue.
  • Body: The sensation of weight experienced in the mouth. Usually, thin, medium, full.
  • Full: Describes liquor possessing color, strength, substance and roundness, as opposed to empty.
  • Thick: Describes liquor having substance, but not necessarily strength.
  • Thin/weak: Describes tea liquor lacking thickness and strength.
  • Toasty – describes the liquor of the brewed tea. Usually this term is used when the tea is “over fired” during the manufacturing process. (Can be bad but not always).

Terms Descriptive of Poor Taste – All Teas

Bakey: Usually occurs when a tea is subjected to higher than normal temperatures during the baking process. Typically unpleasant to the taste.

Cheesy: An undesirable character suggestive of slightly rancid butter, generally attributed to insufficiently seasoned or inferior chest battens.

Common: Inferior teas with little or no distingushing character. Plain. Grocery store teas fall into this catagory. Better worse than plain!

Earthy: Can also be described as moldy, musty, dank etc… Typically occurs when teas are stored under poor conditions.

Empty: When the tea liquor lacks body and substance, this term is appropriate.

Woody: Tea taster’s term indicating an undesirable grassy characteristic.

Terms Descriptive of Good Taste – All Teas.

Biscuity: Tea taster’s expression, often used with Assam teas that have been fired well but not overly so. A not unpleasant character reminiscent of biscuits.

Black Currant: An extremely desirable characteristic occasionally noticeable in the liquors and infusions of fine darjeelings, akin to the aroma emitted by black currant bushes.

Cream(y): Round, smooth the precipitate which is apparent when the liquor of a good strong tea cools. It is a combination of catechin with caffeine. This remains a solution in the hot tea infusions. On cooling, this is thrown out of solution and so remains suspended but after long standing settles at the bottom. A bright cream indicates a good tea, whereas a dull or muddy cream is indicative of an inferior tea.

Full: Strong tea without bitterness and possessing good color,

Fruity Flavor nuance found in quality teas such as oolongs and Keemuns. Also describes fruit flavored teas.

Remember the above are subjective taste characteristics that are “agreed on” in the tea drinking community at large.

So ultimately, it’s a matter of degree of flavor elements, which mainly influences the taste of wu long or any tea for that matter. You be judge…and enjoy!