White, green and black teas are always given a lot of attention. As you’ve probably noticed, previous blogs go on extensively about green tea and black tea, with a thorough look into white tea coming soon. For now, however, I would like to continue with the less common, yet up and coming oolong tea.
The Good Stuff in Oolong Tea
With similar properties as green or black tea, oolong contains polyphenols (antioxidants), caffeine, and amino acids, all contributing to a load full of health benefits. Current evidence strongly supports that tea in general aids in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and osteoporosis and suggests a role in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes. Oolong in particular, contains a unique catechin – caffeine combination that ignites your metabolism for up to 2 hours with specific polyphenols that help block fat-building enzymes. Aside as a tool for sustained weight loss, oolong has also shown to relieve the effects of eczema in as little as a week by just drinking 2 to 3 glasses a day.
As is the case with all tea varieties, oolong is a healthy beverage made up from the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis. And similar to green and black tea, the leaves are picked, allowed to oxidize and then dried. There, however, is where the similarities end and the beauty, complexity, and history of oolong tea begins.
What Makes Oolong Unique
Oolong and its earliest origins date back over 1,000 years and it is said to be the first “tribute tea.” Tribute teas were special harvests regarded of such high quality, they were given in tribute to the emperor or royal family. The first oolongs were compressed into pancake-shaped discs but eventually the royals grew bored of this tradition and favored leaves that were individually rolled and/or twisted. Today both styles can be found.
Within oolong exists a wide spectrum of color, appearance, and flavor – wider than any other variety of tea. Where the tea is grown, when the leaves are harvested, how they are processed, whether they are compressed, rolled, twisted or curled, all contribute to the traits of each individual oolong.
Somewhere Between Green and Black Tea
One particular detail, which holds strong influence over its varying characteristics, is the fact that most oolongs are made up of unique tea plant cultivars harvested solely for the production of specific oolong teas. Oolong can also be minimally oxidized (around 8% oxidation) to almost fully oxidized (up to 99% oxidation). This places oolong somewhere in between green tea and black tea: lower oxidized oolongs resembling green tea and higher oxidized oolongs taking on the qualities of black tea. For similar reasons, its color can change dramatically ranging from shades of green, gold, brown, black, grey and even purple. To top it off, oolongs are whimsically rolled, twisted or curled after oxidation giving it a very organic appearance that unravels beautifully when steeped in water.
The Tea That Keeps On Giving
Traditionally, oolongs are re-brewed several times. And unlike other varieties of tea, higher quality oolongs actually improve with each re-steep. It is said that the best cup of oolong usually results after the third or fourth brew of the same leaves. Whether sweet and fruity, green and fresh, woody, smoky, or flowery, each pot of oolong will take you on a journey, as its flavors delicately evolve in complexity and fineness – a journey fit for an emperor!