Oolong tea is a beverage made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the same plant that is used to make green and black tea. Oolong tea differs from green and black tea in the method of preparation, which also creates a unique, complex flavor. Oolong tea has a long tradition and strong cultural significance in China and Taiwan.
How is Oolong Tea Made?
Oolong tea begins with the Camellia sinensis plant, just as with green and black tea, but once the leaves are picked the process of turning it into oolong begins. After harvesting the leaves, they are left to wilt in the sunlight for a brief period to soften the leaves. After a short wilting process, the leaves are tossed or shaken in a basket, which bruises the leaves and begins the oxidation process.
The amount of oxidation is what distinguishes Oolong tea from green and black teas. Green tea is left unoxidized, black tea is fully oxidized, and oolong tea is partially oxidized. This partial oxidation gives oolong a unique blend of flavors that combine the best of both green and black teas. Finally, after partial oxidization, the tea is fired in a hot wok to deepen the flavor, stop oxidation, and dry the leaves.
Each manufacturer has their own unique twist on oolong tea, most varying at the oxidation step. Oxidation of oolong tea can vary between 8-85%. Chinese oolong teas tend to be fermented less, giving them a light, almost fruity flavor. Taiwanese ooolongs are generally fermented longer and have a deep, rich, toasty flavor. Other factors that can affect the flavor are the climate, growing conditions of the tea bush, and slight variations in the other wilting and firing steps.
Oolong tea leaves are traditionally left whole. The leaves are usually left long and twisted or rolled into tight balls that unfurl as they steep.
The addition of jasmine flowers for flavor is also common with Oolong tea.
Brewing Oolong Tea
Brewing times and strengths may vary with the oolong variety, but these general guidelines are a good place to start for experimentation. Bring a pot of cold water to a boil, then pour a small amount into the teapot and swirl a few times to warm the pot. Discard the water. Add approximately two teaspoons of oolong tea per eight ounces of tea to be brewed to the pot. Pour in the the hot, just below boiling water (about 200ºF or 95ºC) to the pot and steep the leaves for three to five minutes, then serve.
Oolong Health Claims
Oolong tea has long been claimed to aid in weight loss. Beyond its caffeine content, which can boost energy has a slight diuretic action, oolong tea has not been proven to promote weight loss. Additional health claims for oolong tea include reducing skin allergies, preventing high blood pressure, slowing osteoporosis, preventing tooth decay, and reducing the risk of cancer. Although many swear by these claims, they are not yet supported with sufficient evidence.