Oolong Tea, "Everything you Need to Know"
Ever asked yourself if there is a so-called “middle ground” between Green Tea and Black Tea? There is, and it’s Oolong Tea. For many in the west, the name means nothing; that’s because Oolong, unlike other types, has only recently attained recognition outside of China.
There is a Tea revolution taking place across the world. As such, the global Tea Industry has had to change dramatically to accommodate new circumstances. Now more than ever, people are choosing loose Tea for not just taste, but also for its proven health benefits.
Oolong Tea is, of course, no exception. In fact, according to the latest scientific research into Oolong Tea, it may be one of the best for improving one’s everyday way of life in a multitude of ways.
However, only 2% of the world’s Tea drinkers choose this seemingly unassuming brew. But is this set to change? The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company think so, and for this reason, we have created an article that answers the question: What is Oolong Tea?
What is Oolong Tea?
Oolong Tea combines the fresh, alluring fragrance of Green Tea with the indulgently malty flavours of Black Tea. In many respects, this Tea sits right in the middle of the two other types of tea. This is because Oolong leaf Tea is slightly fermented and semi-oxidised, meaning it is quite literally between Green Tea and Black Tea when processing is concerned.
Like all “real” Teas (which excludes Herbal and Fruit Teas), the leaves used in this beverage come from the Camellia sinensis (Tea) plant. And like all Teas, Oolong Tea must be processed soon after harvesting. This process differs in small yet significant ways to Other Tea Types, and can get even more complicated depending on the type of Oolong being made!
An Oolong Tea, depending on its distinct processing, can resemble a Black or Green Tea, or it can resemble neither - or both! How is this possible?
The simple answer is that no two Oolongs are the same.
Those creating an Oolong Tea ultimately determine the desired oxidation levels, which can vary from 8% oxidation to 80% oxidation.
In other words, an Oolong Tea with 8% oxidation will boast characteristics reminiscent of Green Tea, while one with 80% oxidation will offer notes much more akin to Black Tea. And, as likely already suggested, a Tea oxidised at, say, 40% will have qualities of both types, while also consisting of other qualities exclusive to Oolong Tea.
How is Oolong Tea Made?
A traditional Oolong Tea, one that is in-between Green Tea and Black Tea, will undergo the following processing methods:
After harvesting, the first primary step in the production of Oolong Tea is to have the Tea leaves left out in direct sunlight, which causes the leaves to wither.
Before this occurs, however, the leaves are slightly “bruised” by workers who toss or shake them in baskets. This initiates the oxidation process, and as the leaves wither, they begin to lose their moisture content while also becoming more flexible and supple.
The bruising and withering of the Tea leaves may be repeated depending on the desired result.
First Rolling Process:
Rolling the leaf makes up part of the bruising process. It also helps to develop the unique appearance and flavour profile of the Tea.
This bruising breaks down the cellular walls of the leaves, releasing the enzymes and essential oils contained within, which thus aids in defining the tasting notes when later brewed.
Fixing / Kill Green Process:
Once the desired oxidation level has been attained, the process must be halted. To do this, the Tea is roasted (sometimes multiple times), known in the Industry as the “Fixing/Kill Green” stage.
Essentially, heat is applied to the leaves to halt the oxidation process, whereby the Tea begins to dry. This stage also lends vital flavour characteristics to the Tea.
Second Rolling Process:
Again, the leaves are rolled while also, this time, being shaped. This final rolling of the now-roasted and partially dry Tea defines the final appearance of the leaf.
It likewise contributes to the flavour notes, as is the case with much of the processing of Oolong Tea.
Oolong Tea is dried further to reduce the moisture content even more. It is crucial to completely reduce the moisture content of the leaf to ensure its capacity to be stored without spoiling. Following this stage, the processing of Oolong Tea is almost complete.
Following the drying stage, Oolong Tea is technically consumable; however, workers often sort the leaves into various groups of similar size and colour to create different batches of Teas of matched quality.
Each batch of Tea is graded accordingly, then shipped to establishments such as The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company.
Where is Oolong Tea from?
Oolong Tea has a nickname: Chinese Restaurant Tea. It refers to the popularity of this Tea in restaurants across China, where it is often consumed for its ability to aid digestion, one of its many health benefits. The name likewise makes mention of its country of origin: China.
Oolong Tea was made first in the Fujian province of China, located on the south-east coast of the country. Today, however, Oolong Tea is also produced in Taiwan (formerly Formosa), Vietnam, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), Thailand, areas of India including the state of Assam and the Darjeeling distinct, and much of the continent of Africa, including countries like Malawi.
The Fujian province, in particular, has a subtropical climate with mild winters and heavy rainfall. It boasts magnificent mountain ranges and vast forests - conditions perfect for creating many different types of Oolong Tea.
Some of the most famous varieties of this beverage originate from the Wuyi Mountains, as well as the Anxi county - both locations of which are found in Fujian.
History of Oolong Tea
Outside of legend and speculation, nobody knows for sure how or when precisely Oolong Tea was created. Some suggest its origins date back to as early as the 10th Century CE, while others theorise as late as the 17th and 18th Centuries CE. Alas, we’ll likely never know.
There are, however, some truly fascinating and, at times, enchanting stories of how this remarkable Tea first came into existence. The four main theories are:
The Tribute Tea Theory
The oldest of all the theories, this version involves the Chinese Royal Court. During the Song Dynasty (906 - 1279 CE), Chinese Emperors were presented with so-called “Tribute Teas” as a sign of respect.
The Beiyuan Garden in Fujian, at the time, was one of the most highly-regarded producers of Tea. Particularly for their compressed Tea cakes (similar in some ways to Puerh Tea) depicting an imprint of a phoenix and a dragon.
But following the popularisation of Loose Leaf Tea, the Beiyuan Garden struggled to maintain the interest of the Royal Court.
In a desperate attempt to keep up with the times, the Beiyuan Tea Garden began producing a darker leaf Tea, becoming known as “Wu Long” (Black Dragon). And through an elaborate game of Chinese whispers, “Wu Long” became “Oolong”, or so the story goes!
The Wuyi Mountains Theory
According to this legend, the Wuyi Mountains were the birthplace of Oolong Tea some hundreds of years ago. Though little historical evidence exists for this story, (as well as with all the stories), it is suggested that this tea was named after a part of the mountain range.
If this tale is to be believed, then the naming of Oolong Tea took place during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 CE), not the Song Dynasty, with suggestions of it occurring, in particular, during the 16th Century. Nevertheless, it may, again, be just a story.
The Anxi County First Theory
Two theories exist from the Anxi County of the Fujian province of China, both similar in a multitude of ways with only small yet significant differences. The first theory refers to one man and a deadly snake.
The man in question, a farmer, one day found himself confronted by a poisonous serpent while tending to his Tea crop. He made a hasty retreat, dropping a basket of harvested Tea leaves in the process.
When the farmer returned the following day, he found that the leaves in his basket had begun to oxidise, creating a Tea type never before seen at the time.
Intrigued, the farmer brewed the Tea and tried it. The result was unexpected, yet delicious. And eventually, the Tea was named in honour of the snake that led to its creation: Wu Long, meaning Black Dragon. In time, Wu Long became Oolong.
The Anxi County Second Theory
Rather than being a snake scaring away the farmer in this tale, it was, in fact, a deer that caught the man’s eye. Keen to hunt the beast, the farmer followed the deer into the forest with his basket of Tea strapped to his back.
Inside the basket, the Tea leaves were shaken, bashed and bruised as the pursuit continued. When the farmer returned home with his Tea leaves, they had long begun to oxidise. Again, the farmer tried the infusion, and again, he was delighted with the result, just like the first tale.
But in this version, the farmer named the beverage after himself, or specifically his nickname, which was, as you may have already guessed, Black Dragon. Whether the farmer caught the deer in the end, however, remains a mystery!
Formosa Oolong Tea History
Less speculation occurs when one is referring to the history of Formosa Oolong Tea, which is an Oolong Tea originating from modern-day Taiwan. It arrived in Taiwan, along with the likes of most other Tea types, including Green Tea and Black Tea, during the mid-19th Century. Since then, Tea has become a staple of Taiwanese society, with Oolong Tea, in particular, leading the way.
In 1866, during the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912 CE) (when Taiwan was, and debatably still is, part of China), a British trader named John Dodd began championing Taiwanese Teas on the world market. The Qing Dynasty was a time of great upheaval in mainland China, and led to a significant increase in Chinese immigration to the island.
This, in turn, prompted a titanic boom in the Formosan Tea industry, with Tea farmers from Fujian bringing with them their expertise in cultivation and production.
Large-scale industrialisation later swept through Formosa, as it was then known, following the Japanese occupation of the island in 1895. And with industrialisation came mechanisation, whereby family-run Tea gardens across Formosa were converted into mass-producing factory farms.
Following the defeat of the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939-1945), Japanese forces left Formosa, but not without leaving behind a thriving Tea Industry, particularly when it came to Oolong Tea. Following the end of their conquest, independence sentiment in Formosa increased dramatically.
Whether Taiwan today is officially a Chinese territory or a country unto itself remains a topic of considerable debate. Nevertheless, through all the hardships the island has suffered, Oolong Tea has prevailed, and is now one of the island’s most reliable exports.
Oolong Tea Benefits
The taste and aroma of Oolong Tea are exceptional; however, nothing beats its astonishing, and best of all, proven health benefits. Every year, it appears we learn something new about Oolong Tea benefits. From weight loss to diabetes prevention; stronger bones to improved cognitive function, Oolong Tea simply has something for everyone.
Most notably, this Tea contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including fluoride, manganese, potassium, sodium, magnesium, niacin, myricetin, kaempferol and quercetin. Combined. These incredible components can, among other qualities, combat free radicals in the body, which are products of natural, though harmful, human oxidation.
By neutralising these free radicals, the frequent consumption of Oolong Tea can slow down human oxidation, which in turn reduces the risks of developing a variety of chronic conditions.
Improved Digestive Health
Most famously, the frequent consumption of Oolong Tea has a close association with the improvement of the digestive system.
Studies have suggested this is because Oolong Tea helps to alkalise the digestive tract, which is especially beneficial to those with acid reflux and ulcer problems as it leads to reduced inflammation.
Less known is the fact that Oolong Tea is also slightly antiseptic, meaning it can clear bad bacteria in the stomach. Ultimately, many choose to drink Oolong Tea either before or during a large, fatty meal for these reasons.
It is no real wonder, then, that the name “Chinese Restaurant Tea” has stuck!
Improved Cardiovascular Health
Aside from the antioxidant-potential of Oolong, this beverage can keep your “ticker in check” in a few other ways, too.
In one recent study, patients were subjected to a month of frequent Oolong leaf Tea consumption, resulting in a significant decrease in the hardening and narrowing of arteries.
It can also combat the development of atherosclerosis by reducing the risks of dyslipidemia (referring to unhealthy levels of one or more kinds of lipid (fat) in the body). Until more is known, however, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company recommend you consult with a medical professional.
Improved Weight Loss
Would you believe that you can lose some of those pesky pounds with the frequent consumption of Oolong Tea?
It’s true. Best of all, it’s proven. Oolong Tea, as well as most other types of Tea, has metabolism-boosting properties. The metabolism refers to the chemical reaction that takes place in your body’s cells.
It essentially converts the fuel in your food into energy, which is then used to power near enough everything we do. With a boosted metabolism, one can burn fat quicker and more efficiently.
Unfortunately, boosting the metabolism is only half the work. Exercise and healthy eating are still required for Oolong Tea to reach its full potential.
Reduced Risks of Diabetes
According to recent statistics, around 25% of the American population are currently prediabetic, with the UK not dramatically far behind.
This type of Tea, meanwhile, has been shown to regulate the amount of blood sugar and insulin in one’s bloodstream at one time.
In one 2003 study, participants were given Oolong Tea alongside regular hypoglycemic drugs, resulting in the balancing of blood sugar levels and the prevention of sudden drops and spikes.
Though more research is undoubtedly required before any confirmation can be made, the early results appear promising. Drinking Oolong Tea for the reduced risks of Diabetes has shown very encouraging signs but until an adequate amount of research has been conducted we would advise consulting with a medical professional.
Improved Skin Health
It comes as no surprise, in this day and age, to hear that one’s diet has a huge impact on skin health, with conditions such as acne and eczema on the rise throughout the world.
But in addition to eating less sugar and introducing more high-fibre foods to one’s daily routine, people who suffer from skin blemishes should also consider Oolong Tea.
In a 2001 study, 54% of participants found their skin had improved greatly after six months of drinking Oolong Tea daily. So, before spending large sums of money on the latest skin cream, why not first try Oolong Tea for Healthier Better Looking Skin.
It’s important to note that, like Oolong and the potential of diabetes prevention, further studies are required before confirmation can be made on whether this Tea can truly improve bone strength.
What is certainly known, however, is that Oolong Tea contains remarkably high levels of magnesium and calcium, two constituents capable of aiding bone mineral density. In relation to bones, Oolong Tea is also said to protect one’s teeth by combating tooth decay and build-up plaque.
Enhanced Cognitive Function
Once again, further investigation is required; however, preliminary research supports the idea that Oolong Tea can maintain a healthy brain!
This beverage contains both caffeine (approx 35 mg) and L-theanine, which can both support brain function, albeit in only small ways.
Nevertheless, some scientists have recognised minor correlations between the frequent consumption of Oolong Tea and increases in visual information processing, attention levels, alertness and calmness in the brain.
Different Types of Oolong Tea
The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company proudly stock a wide variety of Oolong Loose Leaf Teas.
Choices differ tremendously depending on a multitude of attributes ranging from location, oxidation levels and flavour notes, meaning one should be sure to read each description carefully before deciding on the brew that’s right for you. Here are just some of our favourites:
Wu Long Choice Chinese Oolong Tea
Grown in the Wuji mountain range of the Fujian province, China, our Wu Long Choice Chinese Tea is of the highest quality, offering tastes like no other.
In the cup, it boasts bold, earthy aromas and defined toasty notes. The trained palate may also pick up subtle grassy undertones.
Milk Oolong Tea
As the name suggests, Milk Oolong Tea consists of a rich creaminess seldom found in any other Tea.
The reason for this remarkable flavour note lies in its unique processing, whereby the leaves are briefly heated in milk water steam, leading to the absorption of unmistakably milky flavours.
Oolong Formosa Tea
From the beautiful mountains of Taiwan comes our “House” Formosa Oolong. This particular beverage is made from wild curly leaves which, when brewed, offer a mild aroma and a delicate taste.
For those who do not wish to be overpowered by their morning cup, our Oolong Formosa Tea is the choice for you.
GABA Oolong Tea
GABA stands for “Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid”, which is the result of the unique manufacturing process this Oolong Tea goes through.
The concept refers to the oxidation of Tea, whereby a high-nitrogen, oxygen-free environment is used instead of oxygen during oxidation. It is becoming increasingly popular, particularly owing to GABA Oolong Tea unique health benefits.
Vietnam Tung Ting Oolong
This Tea is grown in the Lam Dong province of southern Vietnam, near Bao Loc. The country has adopted the manufacturing methods of Taiwan, producing Oolong grade Teas of a very high standard.
Our Vietnam Tung Ting Oolong is, of course, no exception. It provides traditional Oolong flavours with a delectable aftertaste.
Moragalla Ceylon Oolong Tea
The Sri Lankan Moragalla Tea Estate lies in the South-West of the so-called “Island of Tea”.
The garden is in the coastal distinct of Galle, close to the town of Kadugannawa, with its altitude and climatic conditions contributing significantly to the rich soil, and in turn, the Tea it produces.
The end result is our Moragalla Ceylon Oolong Tea, which has a full malty aroma and taste.
Assam Tea Smoked Oolong
This is a very special Tea painstakingly manufactured, by hand, into a fine Oolong during the 2nd Flush period.
The leaf is large and twisted, and when brewed, boasts a slight smokey character. Many choose Assam Tea Smoked Oolong owing to its resemblance to Lapsang Souchong, which is a type of smoked Black Tea.
Thailand Jinzuan Oolong
Teas from Thailand are quite a rarity, making this one especially sought-after here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company.
When it comes to taste, our Thailand Jinzuan Oolong consists of flavours more like Green Tea than Oolong Tea. It is grown in the North of Thailand on the fertile slopes of Mount Doi Phayathai.