Of the three main types of tea – black tea, oolong tea, and green tea – oolong tea has the smallest market share. Despite its popularity in Asia, oolong tea is just starting to catch on in the west.
All three types of tea are produced from the same plant - Camellia sinensi. The type of processing that the fresh tea leaves undergo determines the type of tea that is produced. Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea, meaning that the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize (or ferment) for a short period before the oxidation process is halted by pan heating the leaves.
In contrast to oolong tea, green tea is an un-oxidized tea, and black tea is a fully-oxidized tea. The oxidation level of oolong tea gives it more flavor than green tea, but results in a lighter brew than black tea.
Oolong tea is mainly produced in China and Taiwan, but other countries like Vietnam and Sri Lanka also produce a small amount of oolong. Taiwan oolong is considered to be the finest oolong in the world. Many Taiwan tea plantations are at elevations of 2000 meters or higher, and the unique climate conditions of Taiwan are ideal for producing oolong tea.
In Asia, oolong tea is usually made gong fu style. This method of making oolong tea involves the use of a small tea pot filled with tea leaves. The brewing time is quite short – usually less than a minute, and the leaves can be re-steeped many times. The tea is transferred from the tea pot to a serving pot, and from there to small tea cups.
Green tea receives most of the publicity about the health benefits of tea, but the truth is that any type of tea makes a healthy drink. Oolong tea and black tea have many of the same health benefits of green tea. This is because the various levels of healthy compounds change as the tea leaves are processed.
Green tea has the highest levels of catechins, but oolong tea has the highest levels of polyphenols and black tea has the highest levels of teaflavins. This means that no matter which you prefer, tea is a healthy drink.
There are some health benefits, however, that are unique to oolong tea. Scientific studies have associated oolong tea with controlling obesity, tooth decay, and atopic dermatitis.
As the health benefits of oolong tea become better known, this delightful beverage is sure to become more popular in the west. Although many are drawn to oolong tea as an aid to losing weight, the unique taste of oolong quickly turns them into oolong aficionados.