The cheek-to-jowl streets of Flushing, Queens may not seem like the place to find a serene idyll, but slipping into a cup of tea—especially with the right guide—can be just that. Herself raised in the Anxi region of China where Tieguanyin (or "Iron Goddess of Mercy") oolong tea originates, storekeeper Sue is excited to guide visitors through the process of gong-fu oolong preparation, offering as much depth in her knowledge as exists in the flavors of the tea itself.
'gaiwan' on Serious Eats
What we call "black tea" is known in much of Asia as "red tea"—referring more to the color in the cup than the blackened appearance of the fully oxidized leaves before brewing. It may also be useful to distinguish between the origins of black teas, such as Chinese (whose leaves are picked earlier and withstand more oxidation) and black teas of other origins, e.g. Africa, India and Sri Lanka (whose leaves are picked later and are less oxidized). The difference in processing methods of these teas is reflected in their flavor, and affects the way in which you may choose to brew them.
Oolong is the sort of tea whose pleasures, much like its fragrant leaves, unfurl and reveal more and more over time and repeated infusion. Oolong needs room for its leaves to expand, but it also wants a practical sized vessel for repeated infusions.
Feel free to make room in the cupboards right now: though there are myriad devices to brew tea, the simplest, and perhaps most elegant, is the gaiwan. It's a basic lidded cup, typically made from porcelain but also available in glass and even clay. There is no strainer—only the skill of your hand's steady grip as you tilt the gaiwan, allowing only tea, and not leaves, to pass between the gap between lid and bowl.