From the traditional name ‘wulong’ meaning ‘black dragon’, the dark, curled, and twisted leaves of oolong tea that, when steeped, unfurl and come to life are a fitting image of its namesake. Neither a black nor a green tea, but rather sitting between the two, oolong has the exceptional quality of containing all the good things tea drinkers seek from each end of the tea leaf spectrum.
How Oolong Tea is Produced
As a semi-oxidised leaf, oolong tea can sometimes lean towards being a little greener or blacker, depending on how long the leaves have been allowed to go through the oxidation process. Traditionally, Chinese oolongs are less oxidised producing a lighter, green-looking tea, whereas Taiwanese Oolongs undergo a longer oxidation for a darker leaf and deeper flavour.
Oolong teas are produced by commencing the oxidation process by breaking the cell walls of the leaves, or 'bruising'. Before the leaf can be fully oxidised, essentially turning it into a black tea, the leaves are fired to cease any further oxidation. As a result of varying lengths of oxidation, different oolongs offer a wide range of flavour profiles, aromas, and colour characteristics.
One of the most common reasons for drinking oolong (besides just being an enjoyable cuppa) is its ability to assist with weight loss. Oolong, of course, offers many of the same benefits as that of green and black teas, including improving teeth, bone, and skin health, stabilising blood sugar, aiding digestion, and increasing mental alertness. However, the partial oxidation process produces a perfectly sized polyphenol molecule. This molecule is able to activate lipase — an enzyme that is known to dissolve body fat therefore making it ideal for lowering cholesterol levels. Japanese studies have also shown that when paired with fatty foods, oolong tea helps in blocking dietary fat absorption. This is why oolong teas go well with Asian foods that tend to be quite oily and fatty. Furthermore, a rise in metabolism occurs for up to two hours after drinking oolong tea, which is also conducive in burning fat.
Because oolong leaves will sizably expand when steeped, it is ideal to use infusers that are not too restrictive on the leaves so as to receive the fullest flavour from this beautiful tea. If making just one cup, consider using a mug infuser instead of the smaller ball infusers. Or if brewing oolong tea in a teapot, allow the leaves to swirl and dance in the pot rather than confining them to an infuser at all. The leaves can be reused a number of times, with some oolong-drinkers even believing the second or third infusions to offer the best brew.
A difficult tea to produce but exquisitely complex as a result, oolongs offer stunning health benefits and numerous, palatable cuppas. So get out your best and biggest teapot and get sipping all day oolong.