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Understanding More About Oolong Tea

Understanding More About Oolong Tea

By: Dan & Eileen DurandComments: 0


Last month was all about green tea. If you missed reading or wish to review, you can FIND IT HERE. For this month’s newsletter we worked extra hard, hence why it’s late and now a July & August edition. We are explaining oolong teas, which are sometimes not too well understood, since there is so much variation within this classification.

How is OOLONG TEA different? 
Oolongs are a true tea plucked from the Camellia Sinensis plant, and while originated in China, they have migrated to and have maintained very high popularity in Taiwan too. Chinese oolongs from Fujian and Guandong provinces tend to be fairly consistent from year to year. Because of the more variable weather and terrain throughout Taiwan, the taste and price of teas grown there are more unpredictable and can change dramatically from season to season. There are exceptions like "Darjeeling Oolong", but oolong tea is rarely seen in Africa or other tea producing regions.

The spring oolong harvest is preferred and is done after green tea processing is completed. But unlike green, high quality oolongs from autumn are also abundant. For both oolong and green, the summer pick is usually avoided. The picking “ standard” includes the unopened bud connected with two- or three young leaves on the same stem. Leaving the leaves attached to the stem is critical to the processing. The leaves are detached from the stem in the finishing/sorting step.

Oolong (or Wu-long) tea is actually translated from two words meaning “black” and “dragon” in English. Besides many historical stories and meanings (we have more detail and a favorite legend about this in a separate article), the two words also describe the shape of the oolong leaves. Oolong tea goes through a semi-oxidization process that ranges from 20% oxidized (less would be white, yellow, and green tea) to 80% (more would be black tea). Shortly after picking, the leaves are withered in the sun, then shade dried. There are oolongs made "the easy way", which means just letting oxidation occur until about 50%, then stopping oxidation with the firing/heating process (usually done on a large wok). Or, an oolong that is made "the hard way", which entails basket-tossing or tumbling of the leaves to make them distressed and highly oxidized on the outer edges, with the center of the leaf left almost green. Looking at a wet oolong leaf after a brewing session is complete, you’ll see the outer edges are dark and reddish, while the inner leaf is more green. It’s call the “red embroidery”, and evidence that the tea was made the hard way.

There are oolong styles where the leaves are left long and twisted to create a certain flavor and texture, like a Dan Cong (pronounced "don shong") oolongs from the Phoenix mountains. While pure and unflavored, these Dan Congs can produce subtle but familiar notes like jasmine, fruit, ginger, almond, and others. However, in the Chinese “Anxi” style, the leaves are rolled tightly into dark-green (maybe even dark brown), wiry, almost a crispy shape that can resemble tiny black dragons. Again, there's that descriptive name. Examples of Anxi-style oolongs would be “Tie Guan Yin” (Iron Goddess of Mercy), or “Mao Xie” (Hairy Crab). In Taiwan, examples would be “Dong Ding”, or a high-mountain “Alishan”

Some oolongs are finished with a rather crisp, floral, and rounded taste after processing, and others are heated again in one or more roasting steps. This can be automated or the best is done by hand in small skillful batches. Roasting over charcoal or wood gives a unique robust, bold and rich flavor that can age well for years. The oolongs known as YanCha or 'rock tea' from the Wuyi mountains, are among the most famous. The rock tea tea plants are growing in cliffs and rocky soil which provide an earthy, woodsy, and almost mineral taste that subtly changes with every infusion of the leaves. Classic examples of Wuyi Mountain rock tea are “Da Hong Pao” (Big Red Robe), “Que She” (Sparrow Tongue), “Rougue” (Cinnamon), and "Tie Luo Han” (Iron Monk).

All of the above oolong examples would be called orthodox, i.e., higher-quality and more expensive, single-source teas.  Orthodox because they are unaltered and unflavored, and also processed in the skilled, traditional and laborious method. The opposite of orthodox is flavored tea or CTC (crush, tear, curl) which is a mechanized way of producing large volumes of medium to lower quality tea. (We have a companion article this month describing an analogy to wine, helping to understand this.) Many good quality and less-expensive flavored oolongs are very enjoyable, and also make great iced tea. Examples of our Trailhead Tea flavored oolongs are Peach Oolong, Passion Fruit-Mango Oolong, and Cream Oolong. Oolongs can make great gifts because if you don’t know if someone likes green or black tea, getting something in the middle like oolong can make sense.

How to make OOLONG TEA properly? 
Most oolong teas are best prepared at a water temperature of 185°-200° F, with a steep time of about 3-4 minutes. While this is a good rule-of-thumb, these suggested temperatures may vary depending on the type of oolong as well as the amount of oxidation present in the dry leaf. Oolong teas can be re-steeped multiple times and unlike most other tea types, oolongs will improve and transform with each re-steeping. In most cases, the 2nd through 4th steeping is often considered the best. For optimum results, you may want to increase the steeping temperatures slightly after the first few infusions to unlock more flavor potential. We suggest that you use about 1 household teaspoon per 8oz cup for rolled oolongs and 2 teaspoons or more per 8oz cup for long leaf oolongs.

What’s the caffeine level for OOLONG TEA? 
Generally oolong is considered an ‘average amount' for tea. An 8oz cup of oolong tea yields about 1/3 less caffeine than that of an 8oz cup of coffee. This measurement can vary depending on how long the tea is steeped. The longer the steep time at first, the higher the caffeine content will be. Caffeine content will lessen each time tea is re-steeped. In the case of oolong teas, the caffeine content lessens by about 1/3 with each steeping. The 4th infusion or later is close to almost no caffeine, but will still have great flavor.

How is OOLONG TEA healthy? 
Like we discussed last month with green tea, all tea has increasingly become a very popular drink worldwide because of its health benefits. Tea is not medicine, but you can drink it every day, and you're definitely doing your health a big favor.

  • Tea helps your general immune system and helps reduce the risk of cancer. Antioxidants in tea are 100 times more effective than vitamin C, and 24 times better than vitamin E. Experimental studies have reported that tea catechins inhibited influenza viral absorption and suppressed replication. They were also effective against some cold viruses. In addition, tea catechins enhance immunity against viral infection. This helps your body to protect cells from damage linked to many diseases.
  • Tea helps prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering the level of cholesterol. Even after a heart attack it prevents cell deaths and speeds up the recovery of heart cells.
  • Tea contains antioxidants also known as polyphenols which help remove free radicals from our bodies. Free radicals are highly reactive particles formed in our body that can damage cells when their numbers get too high. Consuming foods high in antioxidants like catechins may help limit free radical damage. What this means is tea helps you fight against aging and promotes longevity.
  • The high levels of L-theanine in all types of tea, which is a type of amino acid, can help relieve stress and anxiety. 
  • Tea helps with your body weight loss, helps burns fat and boosts your metabolism rate naturally. It can help you burn up to 70 calories in just one day. Tea can prevent obesity by stopping the movement of glucose in fat cells. If you are on a healthy diet, exercise regularly and drink tea, it is unlikely you'll be obese.
  • The antioxidants in tea help protect the skin from the harmful effects of free radicals, which cause wrinkling and skin aging, even some skin cancers.
  • Tea can help prevent and reduce the risks of arthritis, and has benefits for your health by protecting the cartilage by blocking the enzyme that destroys cartilage.
  • Fluoride content found in tea helps keep your bones strong. Drinking green tea every day will help preserve bone density.
  • Certain teas can help lower cholesterol levels. It also improves the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol, by reducing bad cholesterol level.
  • Tea improves lipid and glucose metabolism, and helps prevent sharp increases in blood sugar levels and balances your metabolism rate.
  • Tea helps boost your memory. Although there's currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, it helps slow the process of reduced acetylcholine in the brain, which can lead to Alzheimer’s.
  • Antioxidants in tea helps prevent against cell damage in the brain which could cause Parkinson’s.
  • Research shows that tea helps against harmful free radicals in fatty livers.
  • Tea helps keep your blood pressure down by repressing the hormone angiotensin, which leads to high blood pressure.
  • Blood sugar tends to increase with age, but the polyphenols and polysaccharides in green tea help lower your blood sugar level.
  • Theophylline in tea can relax the muscles which support the bronchial tubes, reducing some of the severity of asthma.
  • Tea is considered a mild antiseptic and helps fight bacteria and viruses that cause many dental diseases. It also slows the growth of bacteria which leads to bad breath. Green tea is considered a mild antiseptic.
  • Can help relieve some allergies.

So who's ready for some oolong tea? Please let us know what you think, or send us some questions.


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