Although tea is the second-most popular beverage in the world after water, only 2% of the tea produced and consumed is oolong tea – despite its abundance of health benefits!
Oolong tea is a traditional Chinese tea made from Camellia sinensis leaves, the same plant used to make green tea and black tea. The characteristics of oolong tea fall between green and black tea because of its unique processing method.
But what exactly is oolong tea? Why is it “between” green and black tea? Find your answers here: the history, flavor, differences with other types of tea, caffeine content, health benefits, brewing methods, and where to find the best ones.
The history of oolong tea
There are several stories about how oolong tea was discovered.
First, the “tribute tea” theory. This theory tells us that the name “oolong tea” is a tribute to its predecessor, Dragon-Phoenix tea cakes, a tea famous during the Song Dynasty era (960-1279 CE). The name “oolong” was used to replace the old term, as loose-leaf tea became more common. Since the tea is dark, long, and curly, it is called wūlóng (literally means dark dragon) tea – now known as oolong tea.
The second theory is the “Wuyi” theory. This theory suggests that oolong tea originated from the Wuyi Mountains, Fujian, China, and it is named after a part of the mountains where it was first discovered. Some poems from the Qing Dynasty era (1644-1912 CE), such as Wuyi Tea Song and Tea Tale, support this theory’s credibility.
The third and last theory is the Anxi theory. This is the most straightforward theory – the tea was discovered by a man named Sulong, Wulong, or Wuliang, who accidentally oxidized his tea after being distracted by a deer.
What does oolong tea taste like?
Since oolong tea is semi-oxidized, the flavor can change depending on the technique of the tea master, which determines the oxidation level.
Light oolong tea can taste fresh, bright, sweet, and floral. On the other hand, the more oxidized versions tend to be warmer, darker, grassy, and mellow. Other types of oolong tea can be fruity, nutty, or woody. Since there are many different types of oolong tea, you should be able to find one of your likings!
Types of oolong tea
Do you still remember the three theories of how oolong tea was discovered? From those stories, we can already sense that there are actually several different types of oolong tea. Here are the five most famous types of oolong tea in the world:
- Phoenix Tea (Dan Cong)
Produced in Guangdong Province in southern China, Phoenix oolong tea is one of the best-selling oolong tea. Just like the name suggests, this type of oolong tea comes from the Phoenix mountains in Guangdong, China. Phoenix oolong tea is known for its natural flavors and aroma – full-bodied, rich, and fragrant.
- Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin)
If you are in doubt of which oolong tea you should try first, try Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tie Guan Yin) oolong tea. Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea is grown in the mountainous region in Fujian Province, China. The tea got “Iron” in its name because of the laborious processing method, which includes up to 60 hours of slow roast. Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea tastes floral, light, and airy – often thought of as similar to an orchid.
- Wuyi Oolong Tea (Da Hong Pao)
While Iron Goddess of Mercy is known as a “light” oolong tea, Wuyi oolong tea is known as the opposite – a “dark” oolong tea. Wuyi oolong tea has a sharp, smoky, and deep flavor, thanks to its high oxidation level and mineral components. This tea is considered one of the most expensive teas in the world, so prepare your bucks!
- High Mountain Oolong Tea (Gaoshan)
As the name suggests, High Mountain oolong tea comes from a mountainous area in central Taiwan. This type of tea is generally lightly oxidized, which makes it closer to green tea than black tea. This processing method creates a light, crisp, and floral taste for the tea.
- Milk Oolong Tea (Jin Xuan Tea)
Can plain tea be creamy? Milk oolong tea is the answer. Milk oolong tea tastes creamy and sweet because it is grown at a lower altitude and harvested in Spring. Don’t get it wrong – this tea is not milky because we put milk in it! Milk oolong tea is naturally milky, creamy, and buttery. This is the perfect choice for those of you who want a unique taste of oolong tea!
The differences between oolong, green, and black tea
Oolong, green, and black teas all come from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the differences lie in the processing, flavor, and caffeine content.
The three teas differ in the oxidation level: oolong tea is slightly oxidized, green tea is not oxidized, and black tea is highly oxidized.
After withering, oolong tea is bruised and then oxidized for a brief period. It is then pan-fried/dried, giving birth to the oolong tea we know.
In contrast, green tea is directly pan-fried after withering to stop the oxidation process. It is then rolled and dried, ready for consumption.
Black tea has the highest oxidation level of the three. While oolong tea is only bruised, black tea is crushed to enhance oxidation, creating a darker color and stronger flavor.
Oolong tea has a wide range of flavors – from floral to fruity, from grassy to woody.
Lightly oxidized oolong tea tastes closer to green tea, while medium and highly oxidized oolong tea tastes closer to black tea.
The difference lies in the astringency – oolong tea is less astringent than both green and black tea.
- Caffeine content
The caffeine content of oolong tea lies between green and black tea. Green tea has 35-45 milligrams of caffeine per 8oz (~240mL) serving, while oolong tea has 37-55 milligrams of caffeine, and black tea has the highest caffeine content with 40-70 milligrams per 8oz serving.
The caffeine content of oolong tea
Oolong tea has much less caffeine content than coffee – only 37-55 milligrams per 8oz (~240mL) serving, while coffee has about 95-200 milligrams of caffeine per 8oz (~240mL) serving.
However, a study from Taiwan’s Tea Research and Extension Station (TRES) found that the level of caffeine in oolong tea may differ according to the water temperature. It ranges from 100 to 300 milligrams/liter, or 24-72 milligrams per 8oz (~240mL) serving.
Although not as high as coffee, it is not advised to drink oolong tea at night because the caffeine content is still enough to disrupt your sleep cycle.
Health benefits of oolong tea
Oolong tea is one of the most studied Chinese teas, which means the health benefits are already tried and tested.
- Aid with weight loss
Antioxidants in oolong tea interact with good bacteria in our digestive systems, driving weight loss capability and decreasing body fat.
- Improve dental and bone health
Tea leaves contain fluoride, which prevents dental cavities, decreases plaque and gingivitis. The antioxidants found in oolong tea can also increase overall bone mineral density and lower the risk of fractures.
- Improve mood, attention, and brain function
Caffeine in oolong tea can increase the release of norepinephrine and dopamine, which are beneficial to mood, attention, and brain function.
Theanine, an amino acid in tea, also boosts attention and relieves anxiety.
The positive effects are observable in older adults as well. Two studies investigated oolong tea and found that regular consumption of oolong tea lowers the risk of cognitive impairment and cognitive decline, as well as improves cognition, memory, and information processing speed.
- Improve heart health
Regularly consuming oolong tea may improve heart health, thanks to the rich antioxidants. Other studies show that oolong tea may reduce blood pressure, hence reducing heart disease risk. Although oolong tea contains caffeine, since the caffeine level is relatively low, any negative effect regarding hypertension is small.
- Protect against diabetes
Oolong tea improves blood sugar management, eases insulin resistance, and decreases inflammation – thanks to the healthy antioxidants.
- Protect against certain types of cancer
Studies have found that oolong tea may decrease the risk of head, neck, throat, and ovarian cancer. The antioxidants and polyphenols in oolong tea may help prevent cell mutations and decrease the rate of cancer cell division.
The best way to drink oolong tea
There are two ways to enjoy your favorite cup of oolong tea: the cup method and gaiwan method.
- Cup method
If you are in a rush or just want to drink your oolong tea in an easy way, you can use the cup method.
First, preheat your teacup with hot water, and then discard the water.
Brew 2 teaspoons (2g) of tea with 8.8oz (250ml) near-boiling water (205°F/95°C). Brew it for 3-5 minutes. There you go, your oolong tea is ready!
- Gaiwan method
In the mood of going traditional? Try the gaiwan method!
Gaiwan – which literally means “lid and bowl” – is a traditional Chinese tea brewing vessel that can elevate your Chinese tea drinking experience.
To get your cup of oolong tea using the gaiwan method, you need to first preheat your gaiwan by pouring hot water into it, and then discard.
Put 4 grams of oolong tea in the gaiwan and pour some hot water into it, then discard the water. This process is known as “awakening the tea”, or opening up the tea leaves. You can discard the water into your teacup to preheat it.
Pour hot water (205°F/95°C) into the gaiwan to brew your tea. For the first steep, you can do it for 15 seconds.
Serve your tea using a teacup. You should not drink your tea directly from the gaiwan. Now your traditional oolong tea is ready!
(You can steep your oolong tea for 6 times, each additional one will take a longer time to steep. From the first steep to the sixth steep, we encourage you to take 15s, 25s, 40s, 60s, 80s, 100s)
Where to buy oolong tea
To ensure authenticity, it is best to buy oolong tea from tea specialists.
BornTea offers authentic and sustainable oolong tea, straight from our farmlands in Anxi, Fujian Province, China. We offer the Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea, which is a premium type of Chinese oolong tea from Anxi, Fujian Province.
If you want to drink something fresh, brisk, and sweet to accompany your contemplation and meditation moments, check out our Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea – directly from Anxi, China to your doorstep.