I've been fascinated by the concept of Darjeeling Oolong from the first time I heard of it. In general, I like the idea of separating the style of a tea (as defined by its production process) from the region of production, and this separation is a key driving philosophy behind how I've designed RateTea.
RateTea's listings of oolongs are not a good indicator of the total quantity of global production of teas from different regions, but it is a coarse indicator of the visibility of these varieties of tea in the western world. Ranking the number of teas listed from various regions we see China and Taiwan leading the way, and India is a follow-up, with all but one tea, a lone Nilgiri oolong, being produced in Darjeeling. Darjeeling is emerging as a major oolong-producer, at least, among artisan teas.
But I've found that these teas can be very difficult to brew properly.
How to brew Darjeeling Oolong:
I've heard a lot of critical comments about Darjeeling Oolong, and in fact, I've issued a number of them myself. I have tried a handful now, possibly because I seek them out, out of curiosity, and more often than not, I'm disappointed. But I have made one key observation:
Darjeeling oolongs are best brewed with water significantly below boiling point, as one would brew a green or white tea.
I've found this to be true even of some of the surprisingly dark oolongs, but especially true of the lighter ones, which seem to make up most of what comes out of the Darjeeling region. Why? Unlike some green teas, I find that Darjeeling oolongs rarely become bitter, sour, or astringent. However, I find they often acquire an unpleasant vegetal aroma, like overcooked broccoli, if steeped with water that is too hot. Even when brewed properly though, they are still highly vegetal, but at least, for my tastes, I strongly prefer them when brewed with a lower water temperature.
How about you?
Does this post resonate with your experiences and your tastes? Do you find Darjeeling oolongs to be picky about brewing temperature, and to require lower temperatures than Chinese or Taiwanese oolongs (which can often handle boiling water just fine, even if they are best brewed with water a little below boiling).