Oolong vs sencha is a comparison a lot of people make, but in reality these teas are quite different from one another. In this article, we’re going to be comparing sencha tea vs oolong when it comes to production, taste, caffeine content and more.
Let's explore these two very different tea types and see what makes them alike and what makes them different. Before we get started, let’s briefly define each of these teas.
Comparing the Differences Between Oolong vs Sencha
What is Sencha?
Sencha is the most common type of Japanese green tea. It’s made from the young sprouts on the top of the tea plant. After the leaves have been harvested, they are then steamed, rolled and dried.
The dried sencha leaves tend to take on this tightly rolled needle shapes. This really locks in the flavor until it is ready to be released all at once into a glorious green infusion.
The flavor of sencha tea tends to be slightly sweeter compared to other green teas, with a hint of this grassy flavor and citrusy astringency.
What is Oolong?
You may be familiar with green tea and black tea, but oolong is a new tea for most. You can think of oolong as somewhere in between a green tea and a black tea. While green tea is unoxidized and black tea is fully oxidized, oolong tea is somewhere in the middle.
The tea leaves are withered and rolled after harvest. The rolling process bruises the leaf and brings different enzymes to the surface. This accelerates the oxidation process, as the inner leaf material is exposed to oxygen. This is how oolong tea gets a lot of its fruity or floral notes.
A few hours later, the oxidation will need to be stopped by applying heat to the leaves. Oolong tea can also be charcoal baked, which will drastically impact the flavor, imparting more of these roasted notes on the tea.
The production of Sencha vs Oolong Tea
During the production process, there are a few key differences that lead to the large disparity of oolong vs sencha. Let's cover each of them briefly.
The picking of Sencha vs Oolong
Sencha tends to be made from the younger sprouts of the tea plant. These younger sprouts are thought to be the highest in nutrients and the smoothest and sweetest in flavor.
Oolong on the other hand is made from the older tea leaves. Because there is so much work that goes into producing oolong tea, the leaves don’t matter quite as much as the flavor can be manipulated during the processing.
The heating of Sencha vs Oolong
When tea leaves are picked, they will begin to oxidize immediately. This oxidation process can be stopped by applying heat, which deactivates the enzymes that cause oxidation. With a green tea like sencha, it is so important to heat the leaves almost immediately after harvest, so they are able to maintain their fresher, more vegetal notes.
Oolong on the other hand can be partially oxidized, so it doesn’t need to be heated directly after harvest. This doesn’t mean that the farmer can necessarily take all the time they want, as each stage in the production process is meticulously planned.
The rolling of Oolong vs Sencha
When you look at sencha vs oolong tea, you will notice right away that the two look different. This has to do with how the tea leaves are rolled.
Oolong teas are either rolled into a tight ball shape, or more of a strip shape. Sencha tea on the other hand is tightly rolled into thin needle shaped leaves. These are both ways to lock in the flavor of the teas until they are ready to be infused.
Oolong vs Sencha caffeine
Sencha caffeine content will tend to have more or less 40mg of caffeine per serving, while the amount of caffeine in oolong tea can vary.
Although oolong is a very broad category of tea, an average cup may have about 36mg of caffeine. We’ll discuss why the caffeine content is lower in the next section.
If you’re interested in a complete ranking of caffeine in tea, you can check out our article 👉 Which Tea Has the Most Caffeine
How the picking of Oolong vs Sencha influences caffeine content
The reason oolong tea tends to have a lower caffeine content compared to sencha has to do with the leaves that are used. In general, sencha tends to be made from younger leaves and oolong tea tends to be made from older leaves.
The tea plant produces caffeine as a defense mechanism to protect itself against insects. The younger, more tender leaves require more protection and therefore more caffeine. The older, tougher leaves don’t need to produce as much caffeine as they are less vulnerable. This is one of the main reasons for the difference in caffeine of oolong vs sencha.
If you want to learn more about the tea harvest, you can learn all about it in our 👉 Complete Guide to Tea Harvesting
What Oolong tea and Sencha do we recommend?
A Rare Japanese Oolong
While most oolong tea comes from China, there are a few incredible oolong teas produced in Japan. These oolong teas tend to be lighter and more floral.
After searching around Japan for the past few years, we've finally found an excellent Japanese oolong tea produced by miyazaki sabou.
Our Oolong Miyazaki Sabou has flowery notes of lilac and Jasmine, with a tiny bit of dried honey sweetness and a green apple astringency in the finish.
At Nio Teas, we also have a great selection of sencha teas. During our travels, we've met with dozens of farmers and sampled hundreds of different sencha teas. We've ultimately decided on a handful of our favorites, and were so happy to share them all with you!
These teas are all coming from different regions, tea farms, cultivars and production styles! If you're looking for a good place to start, we recommend the Fukamushi Yamaga, a delicious deep steamed sencha from Shizuoka with a powerful fruity and steamed vegetable flavor. It also works great as a cold brew green tea!