Posted by: wtfwjd? | May 29, 2008

“Milk Oolong” — what is it?

I just received some of this stuff from TeaSource. I brewed up a couple cups in the Gaiwan I also received from them (very nice, and I think a good buy at $13.99 for a very nicely-made large Gaiwan) and I’m not really wild about the tea. Both the leaves and the resultant liquor have a slightly odd almost-perfumey “sweet milk” smell. I call it “sweet milk” but seeing those words without smelling the smell might not be very descriptive. It’s a bit like sweetened condensed milk, or vanilla ice cream minus the vanilla, or rice pudding or Bird’s custard or something like that. Actually, it smells to me just like something familiar, but I can’t put my finger on quite what it is, other than the vague idea of “candy shop” or maybe some Japanese milk-flavored candies I’ve had.

So what is this “milk oolong,” and from what does its scent derive? According to TeaSource, “milk is actually used during the processing of this tea.” A few other sites say that milk oolong is made by steaming the leaves over milk. Still others say that the flavor develops from a change in temperature close to harvest time or something like that. Here’s one of the more fanciful explanations.

I’m tending to believe the “steamed over milk” or more generic “milk is somehow involved” explanation — but how exactly can milk be used to create a normal-looking Jade-colored rolled oolong with such an unusual, strong flavor?

Anyone know the real story or stories?

Bottom line for me is I’m glad I tried it and look forward to trying it some more, but I don’t think milk oolong will become a mainstay in my tea cabinet.

UPDATE 5/31: OK, I asked Daniel at TeaSpring about their Nai Xiang “milk oolong” and here is his reply:

Yes, the flavor (flavoring) is added after the tea is processed. It is not natural.

(Thanks and kudos to Daniel for this very straightforward answer.) His tea looks very much like what I have, and I think confirms my suspicion that this taste/aroma is not naturally occurring. I have the same question in to the folks at TeaSource, but I think they’re away at World Tea Expo, so I wouldn’t expect to hear back for a few more days. Meanwhile, I was drinking a very nice Alishan oolong tonight and I realized that the “milk oolong” flavor has a slight resemblance to the buttery, creamy flavor of this Alishan — but kind of as an analog, in the sense that grape soda tastes a little bit like real grapes.

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Responses

  1. Hi. This is Johnny from TeaLaden.com. Thanks for the write up about Milk Oolong. There may be some companies who do add flavorings to make their milk oolong because of the limited production of this tea or to reduce their costs because Wu Yi Oolongs are more expensive. I can assure you that there are no flavorings added to our milk oolong. The flavor comes from natural climatic changes on the mountain. Surrounding the city of Quanzhou is the only area we are aware of that produces this unique tea.


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