November 12, 2020
by Sara Shacket
Oolong is such an amazing category of tea, there are so many varieties with unique flavors and textures. An oolong can be closer to a green tea with lightly vegetal, floral and creamy notes, or veer towards the darker, nutty sweetness of a black tea. Masters Teas offers a wide range of oolong types, and the Formosa Red is a beautiful example of an oolong with more oxidation and roast, edging it towards a black tea.
Due to the higher oxidation and heavier roast, this Taiwanese oolong is perfect for the autumn and winter months. It has sweet notes of fruit and caramel and the roast makes it warming and comforting, like a soft fleece blanket. Let’s look a little deeper at this tea.
The History of Formosa Red Oolong
A relatively young tea, Formosa Red oolong was developed in 2008 Luye, a southeastern county of Taitung, Taiwan. Plants grown for black tea in the region served as the inspiration for this oolong style, which is why it is on the more oxidized end of the spectrum. Masters Teas Formosa oolong is grown by farmer Jing Wei Kuo right in Taitung county. Because of its mountainous terrain, Taitung remains a bit isolated and sparsely populated, which has helped preserve their traditional tea growing and processing methods.
What Does ‘Formosa Red’ Mean?
‘Formosa’ indicates that the tea is from Taiwan. Formosa is the previous name for the country, coined by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s. They called it “Ilha Formosa”, meaning “beautiful island”. Even after the name was changed to Taiwan, Formosa still stuck, and is used to refer to certain Taiwanese teas today.
The ‘red’ refers to the type of tea it is inspired by, which is black tea. In Taiwan and many other parts of Asia, black teas are called ‘red tea’ due to its color and oxidation. Formosa Red uses the longer oxidation level of black tea (around 70%-80%), combined with the firing process of an oolong.
Not only does this oolong have a longer oxidation than their lighter counterparts, it is also given a thorough roasting. Due to this process, the tea is similar in color to a black tea, and also has the sweet, fruity flavors you may associate with them.
Enjoying Formosa Red Oolong
So I mentioned this tea is warm and comforting. Let’s get a bit into those cozy details! Before brewing, be sure to warm your vessel first, and place the leaves inside. Close the lid and give them a little shake and enjoy the warm toasty aromas as you open the lid. When I tried this, the leaves gave me a, toasted bread and caramel scent. Now that you’ve experienced the dry leaves, you can pour the water and start brewing.
I like to brew this tea with a gaiwan, using 195° water. In a gaiwan you can do quick steeps, 20-45 seconds each depending on your flavor preference. Be sure to steep until the leaves fully unfurl, as they have so much flavor to give. If you’re using a teapot you can brew for 2-3 minutes. As the leaves unfurl you may wish to ease up slightly on your steep times, as there will be more surface area to extract flavor.
After you steep, don’t forget to smell those wet leaves. For me, the leaves smell like freshly spun cotton candy. So sweet, and slightly caramelized. Of course there is also a bit of roasty goodness.
The brewed tea has a strong toasted brioche flavor with sweet honey, and rich caramel. I get a very specific floral note as well, which reminds me of honeysuckle nectar. When I was at summer camp many years ago, we’d pick the honeysuckle blooms and taste the tiny bits of nectar found inside. This tea brought me back to those sun-filled days.
Remember when I said this tea was cozy? Part of that is from the mouthfeel. This brew has a silky-smooth, rich mouthfeel. It makes me want to cozy up and sip with a good book. When choosing roasted oolongs, it’s important to have a well-balanced flavor. The roast really comes out in this tea, but it doesn’t overpower. The toasty flavor is nicely settled, and enhances the deep, fruity flavors.
This tea steeps up with very little astringency, and is forgiving if you steep it slightly too long. The deeply complex flavors are perfect for the cooler months ahead.