I just ordered some new loose leaf oolong, and I've noticed that the leaves don't unfurl all that much--even after two or three steeps. I've noticed with past oolongs that the leaves open up nice and big, but not really with this one. It still makes amazing tea, but I'm wondering if I'm missing out on some flavor. I typically use not-quite-boiling water and steep a couple teaspoons of tea for about 4 minutes.

Are non-unfurling tea leaves an indication of...anything? Is there more flavor to be had with fully opened leaves?

  • Do you agitate it as you steep?
    – Ming
    Nov 7, 2014 at 4:36
  • I usually don't, but I'll give it a shot. Thanks.
    – jmoneystl
    Nov 7, 2014 at 18:00
  • If you agitate, it probably won't release a noticeable amount of extra flavour unfurled vs furled, so I wouldn't worry. If you really want them to unfurl, I'd probably look at the temperature of your water: what temp are you using?
    – Ming
    Nov 7, 2014 at 21:44

3 Answers 3


Not sure if this is the situation in your case, but here's a possible stab. I hope it's informative (and correct!) anyway. :)

Depending on the look of the leaves (can't tell from your link), you might have just the tips and buds, rather than fully formed and unfurled leaves. If this is the case, this can indicate higher quality (or at least more desirable, commercially speaking) tea, and perhaps the time of year of harvest. If very young, these buds won't unfurl much (or at all).

When harvesting tea, one could pick the more mature (older) leaves further up the branch (toward the trunk of the tree), or further down toward the end of the branch (toward the newest buds), which will be smaller and more delicate. The latter (buds and smaller leaves) are "better" in various respects, and are generally more expensive in respects of harvesting, processing, etc., and correspondingly less common and more valuable.

Take a look at tea leaf grading guides; the Wikipedia article on tea grading for more on the concept. There are many more guides if you search on that term. Though usually applied to black teas, I hope it illustrates the point I'm trying to make. Grades of "FOP" ("Flowery Orange Pekoe") and higher will have some quantity of the buds; more words means "better" in some regard (Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery... I have heard of SFTGFOP1, but I am certainly not refined enough to appreciate it). Good white teas (e.g., the picture on this page is an example of leaves that are "hairy" because the buds are just opening) sometimes have lots of buds, which won't unfurl when steeping. Again, you're talking oolong, but hopefully this illustrates the concept.

Other teas are mechanically rolled (e.g., gunpowder green tea) so the look of the leaves before steeping could be similar between buds and processed teas. Gunpowder tea (the stuff that that I get, anyway) is relatively lower quality, made from more mature leaves, which unfurl completely into large leaves after steeping.

As an aside: For good quality tea, I find using too-hot water yields less desirable tea. YMMV.

I hope you've got a great tea!


for chinese teas its important that your water is boiling hot as you pour it in otherwise the leaves wont unfurl. Just make sure it is super hot when it goes in the pot an cover it to keep the heat in.


Given your description of the tea, it's probably a lightly oxidised, tightly rolled oolong. Those oolongs should be steeped at as high temperature as possible with highly isolating teaware. And instead of 4 minutes steeping time, you should go for much lower steeping times (around 20-30 seconds).

Since the leaves don't unfurl easily. You can first do a 20 second quick rinse, by discarding the first steep. The leaves should start to release nice flavour from the second steep.

Ideally you should use a small Yixing teapot or small gaiwan to brew the tea.

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