Oolong Tea: Production, Flavour, and Benefits

When I was ten, long before I knew anything about antioxidants or the benefits of oolong tea, my mother took me to what became a favourite childhood restaurant: the Oasis. A dumpy, unspectacular, dark Chinese restaurant in my small Pennsylvania hometown, the Oasis still piqued my curiosity and dazzled my limited senses. Where else could I giggle at the thought of a Pu-Pu Platter, crunch on fried chow mein noodles, and order the exotic entrÃ?©e labeled “Buddha’s Garden”? Of particular novelty, though, was the special oolong tea served at the Oasis Chinese Restaurant. Delighted by the tiny, handle-free cups and the long, snake-like spout of the metal teapot, and the exquisite taste, I became an oolong tea fan at the tender age of ten. Now that I’m all grown up (sort of), I still get excited about tiny, handle-free cups, but I also know more about the production, flavour, and benefits of oolong tea.

About Oolong Tea: Production and Flavour

Oolong is not an herbal tea but a “real” tea, meaning that it is made with the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The tea originated in the Fujian region of China but is now cultivated elsewhere in China as well as in Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Sometimes known as brown tea, oolong tea falls along a continuum from lightest to darkest as follows: white, green, oolong, and black. The production process for oolong tea is rather sophisticated because the leaves are neither unfermented (as with green tea) nor fermented completely (as with black tea). This limited fermentation usually involves a well-gauged partial drying followed by a chafing and bruising step and then another round of drying, often with charcoal. The timing, temperature, and extent of the drying is crucial, as it teases out the precise flavour of oolong tea.

Although oolong tea’s caffeine and antioxidant levels hover between those of green tea and black tea, the taste is remarkably distinct – nonlinear between its counterparts. Thus, the flavour of oolong tea must be captured like a fine snapshot through the exacting partial fermentation. Oolong means “black dragon” in Chinese, a reference to a folktale surrounding the tea’s origin. According to the legend, a tea harvester was distracted in some way (the stories vary) by a black dragon and left the leaves out longer than expected, thus resulting in a browner tea.

The taste of oolong tea is considered a sophisticated bouquet of flavours, with an aftertaste of peachiness offsetting an initial gentle bitterness. It is neither grassy nor woody, yet it is full-bodied and sweetly aromatic. Many tea drinkers consider oolong a trade-off between green and black teas: it’s often deemed more palatable than green tea because it is less leafy – yet it maintains a higher antioxidant content than fully fermented black tea.

Benefits of Oolong Tea

In addition to its robust yet pleasing flavour (a benefit of its own), there are numerous health benefits to oolong tea:

�· Oolong tea is sometimes used in conjunction with medication to treat certain forms of diabetes (because it helps lower plasma sugar).

�· Some researchers have found that oolong tea helps to lower cholesterol levels.

�· It contains less caffeine than black tea, providing more subtle stimulation.

�· Oolong tea contains antioxidants that bind to free radicals and thus protect cells

�· Oolong tea is recommended as a digestive aid when consumed along with food.

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