What is Oolong Tea?
Tea drinkers, unite!
Whether you're at work or at home, it can be hard to find time for yourself due to the pressure we feel from our responsibilities. Lucky for those who need a well-deserved break, there's nothing that compares to winding down with some tea after a long day.
There’s a whole world of tea beyond green and black varieties to be discovered, and oolong tea is a delicious example. But what exactly is oolong tea?
Keep reading to learn all about this special tea, including its origins, health benefits, and Chimney & Tea’s exclusive tips on how to brew the best cups of oolong tea.
What Is Oolong Tea?
Did you know the Chinese name for Oolong tea (烏龍茶, or wu-lung cha) translates to “Black Dragon”?
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese loose leaf tea that is an integral part of Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. Oolong tea leaves are produced from the camellia sinensis plant, which is actually the same tea plant that also makes green tea and black tea.
* Fun fact: Fundamentally, all tea plants can be processed into green tea and black tea, however, some varieties are more suitable to be processed into green tea, and vice versa. Similar to wines – technically, red wines are made with red grapes. However, red grape varieties from different regions also lend themselves to be made into different wines, such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet, etc.
The semi-oxidized Oolong tea falls between green and black tea in terms of both taste and caffeine content, making it a perfect choice for those who want to take things down a notch from a cup of joe.
So, is oolong tea the same as black tea?
Or, what is the difference between white tea, black tea, green tea, and oolong tea?
The main difference between these types of tea is the tea plant type, the oxidation level, and how they are processed.
Oxidation is when tea leaves are exposed to oxygen under the sun, which causes them to turn brown (as the water in the leaves evaporates) and allows their flavors to develop. For comparison, black tea is fully oxidized, while green tea undergoes minimal oxidation.
Oolong involves more complex processing compared to green tea and black tea, and creates a semi-oxidized or partially oxidized end product. This results in a tea that has both earthy and fruity notes, as well as a slightly higher caffeine content than green tea.
In terms of oxidation levels, oolong tea sits between the two: green tea < oolong tea < black tea.
Common Types Of Oolong Tea & Flavor Profiles
There are two main types of Oolong tea: Green Oolong (or Jade oolong) and Dark Oolong. Green oolongs are lighter in color and lower in oxidation level.
Within these two categories of oolong tea, there are subcategories such as:
- Taiwan Alishan "High Mountain" Oolong Tea (阿里山高山烏龍茶): a signature, golden-colored tea with a floral-fruity aroma, fresh and crispy taste, and long-lasting sweet aftertaste. Alishan high mountain oolong tea is an iconic Taiwanese tea. It is closer to green tea due to its lightly-oxidized processing method and is processed into a tight ball shape. However, tea farmers have developed high mountain oolong black tea in recent years which has become popular among black tea lovers, as it combines the features of oolong tea with a hint of a honey-like natural sweet taste.
- Wuyi Da Hong Pao (大红袍, which translates to ‘Big Red Robe’): the most expensive tea in the world with very rare in quantity. This heavily-oxidized tea has hints of stone fruit and a brown sugar taste, a woody fragrance with a velvety smooth body, and a long and lingering aftertaste. The tea is typically in a twisted shape.
- Tieguanyin (鐵觀音, which translates into ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’): comes from the Tieguanyin variety which is typically grown in lower elevations. The tea has a pleasant orchid aroma, and amber color, and is formed in a twisted shape.
- Taiwanese Milk oolong (金萱; a.k.a. Jin Xuan Tea): is another small-leaf variety and is famous for its subtle but unique creamy and milky taste profile, which is naturally formed during the oxidation stage in the tea-making process. Milk oolong is only grown in Taiwan. However, more and more "fake" milk oolong, which is added scents and other artificial additives, have started to flood the market due to its popularity. The true milk oolong does not have a milky aroma before steeping and is not pungent while tasting.
Where Is Oolong Tea From?
Oolong tea originates from Wuyi Mountains of the northern Fujian province of China. Its seeds and processing techniques were brought into Taiwan in the 18th-19th century.
* Fun fact: There was a period of time when there was very limited interaction between China and Taiwan. This forced tea farmers in Taiwan to begin improvising, developing, and refining tea process skills by themselves as well as with support from the Japanese government (which was the colonizer of Taiwan at the time). This became what makes the oolong tea processing method different from these two regions.
Although both China and Taiwan share similar roots and a love for tea consumption, their culture and flavor preferences for food are very different. This difference also affects how Chinese and Taiwanese tea masters from the two regions process their oolong tea.
A Brief History of Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is thought to have originated in the Fujian province of China during the Tang dynasty (618-907).
Legend has it that oolong tea was originally produced in small batches and was very rare. In fact, it’s said that a Chinese emperor once gave an oolong tea plant as a gift to one of his officials before it became popular amongst other citizens.
Eventually, production of oolong tea began to spread to other parts of China and Taiwan. In the year of 1869, Taiwanese oolong tea was exported to the U.S. for the first time, and the rest is history.
Nowadays, oolong tea is enjoyed all over the world for its unique taste and health benefits.
What is Oolong Tea Good For?
Oolong tea has many benefits and is good for your health and wellbeing in general. It can help those looking to lose weight, improve heart health, and reduce the risk of cancer. Oolong tea is also known for its anti-aging properties.
Some of the reported health benefits of drinking oolong tea include:
- Boosting metabolism and aiding in weight loss
- Lowering cholesterol (and other symptoms of heart disease)
- Regulating blood sugar levels (e.g. Type 2 Diabetes management)
- Improving skin complexion
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema) relief
See Healthline for more information on the health benefits of oolong tea.
What Does Oolong Tea Taste Like?
Oolong tea is known for its delightful taste and mood-lifting fragrance.
TASTE: The taste of oolong tea is full of layers but smooth. Oolong tea’s tasting notes can vary widely, with some being more sweet and woody, and others being more rich, depending on oxidation and roasting levels.
AROMA: Oolong tea’s scent is especially incomparable. It has a mix of smoky, fresh, and floral notes that will lighten your mood instantly. Some tea lovers compare the smell of oolong tea to orchid, rose, or jasmine.
Does Oolong Tea Contain Caffeine?
Yes, oolong tea contains caffeine. The levels of caffeine differ from 35 to 55 mg, which is about the same amount of caffeine in decaf coffee. The longer tea is steeped, the more caffeine will be released.
Therefore, oolong tea is a perfect substitute for those who are looking for a milder boost from a lower caffeine content beverage without the jitters associated with coffee.
Does Drinking Oolong Tea Come with Any Side Effects?
Drinking more than 4 cups of oolong tea per day increases the potential risk of side effects such as irregular heartbeat or headaches due to the caffeine content.
For most people, drinking up to four cups of oolong tea per day is generally considered safe, but if you’re ever unsure, speak to a healthcare professional.
How to Brew Oolong Tea
Now that you know all about the amazing benefits of oolong tea, it's time to learn how to brew it!
- The first step is to choose your tea leaves. Oolong teas can range from lightly oxidized to heavily oxidized, so choose a variety that sounds appealing to you.
- Once you have your tea leaves, it's time to start brewing. Oolong tea should be brewed at a lower temperature than black tea, at around 90-95 degrees Celsius, or 194-205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Oolong tea is best brewed in a ceramic or clay vessel. Steep for 2-3 minutes, and then enjoy!
How to Make a Refreshing Iced Oolong Tea Cold Brew
If you want to get really fancy, you can also try cold brewing your oolong tea.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of tea leaves to a pitcher of cold water.
- Let it steep a minimum 6-8 hours in the fridge.
- In the morning, strain the leaves.
- Enjoy your refreshing cup of iced oolong tea.