In this second blog on Taiwan teas 101, you will learn another tip to quickly sort through the variety of Taiwan teas, particularly Oolong teas. The tip is to categorize Taiwan teas based on their oxidization levels. Oxidization? Never heard of it? And why is it important, or what this categorization can do for you as a tea drinker, even if you do not yet fancy Oolong teas? Well, unless you would always prefer to select a tea based on added flavorings and scents, which are more of an industrial add-on than a natural occurrence from within tea leaves and stems, it may gain you a different perspective on how to appreciate tea.
Oxidization level can serve as a key benchmark to select teas that meet your personal preference, presumably, you have the experience of how black tea and green tea taste like. Oxidization level is measured by the percentage that catechin is lost during tea processing. Catechin is a type of natural phenol and antioxidant. In the case of green tea, catechin is nearly 100% preserved because tea leaves have gone through very little processing. Hence, it is zero oxidized. On the contrary, catechin is virtually all lost as a result of processing tea leaves into black tea, so the oxidization is nearly 100%. A simpler way to express the relation between oxidization and catechin is like this: Oxidization (%) = 1- catechin (%).
In between these two spectrums come Oolong teas. As you may see from the table below, the oxidization levels of Taiwan Oolong teas can range from as light as 8%, to as heavy as 70%. In other words, the taste of Pouchong Oolong is closer to green tea, still high in catechin content but a bit less in astringency and bitterness as green tea may normally has. Bai Hao Oolong is closer to black tea while retaining more catechin. Therefore, if you’re a green tea fan and would like to venture into Oolong, it’s safer to start with light oxidized Oolong and gradually expand to heavier oxidized Oolong. The opposite is recommended for a black tea fan.
If you would like to know where in Taiwan these teas are mostly produced, you may find them plotted on a Taiwan map in my blog: Where do Taiwan teas grow? A map covers them all.
Since you have by now learned the oxidization spectrum among Taiwan Oolong teas, you can also visualize the oxidization levels by the color of tea liquid after brewing. In the image below that show five Taiwan Oolong teas and black tea, oxidization levels are fairly in line with the liquid color – the lower the oxidization of a tea, the lighter the liquid color; the higher the oxidization, the darker the liquid color.
The after-thought you might have after seeing these colors: does that mean the teas (packed in tea bags particularly) available in the mass markets are mostly produced based on 100% fully oxidized tea leaves because their color after brewing tends to be so dark red or brown? The answer is quite obvious, isn’t it?