When it comes time to pour a hot cuppa, it can be hard to decide what tea to drink. Today, we're highlighting one of our favorite tea categories: oolong tea.
Oolong tea is a classic Chinese tea that offers health benefits for the heart, teeth, and mind. Drinking this true tea can help awaken your senses and improve alertness. Find out what oolong tea has to offer in terms of flavor, history, and health benefits right here.
Oolong tea is a true tea—along with white tea, green tea, black tea, and pu-erh tea—meaning it is made from the leaves of the true tea plant known as Camellia sinensis.
Oolong tea, or wulong tea, is largely produced in China and is one of the most famous Chinese teas used in the traditional Gongfu tea ceremony during the Qing Dynasty. The largest producing regions are in Asia including Anxi in the Fujian Province of China and Pinglin Township near Taipei, Taiwan. The tea leaves are harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant in multiple flushes, typically beginning in early spring.
Once the oolong tea leaves are harvested, they are transported to an on-site facility where they undergo a process of semi-oxidation. The leaves are first withered to reduce moisture content and then bruised slightly to encourage enzymes to interact with oxidation. This process is called oxidation and causes the leaves to turn brown.
Oolong teas can be oxidized anywhere from 8 to 80 percent depending on the tea type and manufacturer. Once the tea reaches the desired oxidation point, tea masters apply heat to the leaves to end the oxidation process.
The leaves are then shaped into long spindles, balls, tea bags, or loose leaf tea packaging for sale. The tea may also be graded by a tea master and sold as premium blends. Some oolong bestsellers include milk oolong tea, Black Dragon, Phoenix Mountain Oolong, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Wuyi oolong tea, Ti Kuan Yin (Tieguanyin) and Da Hong Pao.
On average, oolong tea contains around 35 to 40 mg of caffeine compared to the 200 mg present in a cup of coffee. Oolong tea doesn't have much caffeine compared to a standard cup of coffee. However, it also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps slow the absorption of caffeine. This results in a longer lasting energy boost when compared to coffee.
The flavor of oolong tea varies dramatically thanks to the different oxidation levels. Lightly oxidized oolongs offer a light body with floral, sweet flavor. Heavily oxidized oolong teas, on the other hand, offer a more robust flavor with toasty and earthy notes. Oolongs can also have hints of grassy, roasted flavors depending on where it is cultivated. Oolongs grown at higher altitudes such as Wuyi Mountain oolong and Wu Liang mountain tea tend to have stronger flavors with earthy characteristics. Sea-level grown oolongs are airier and more floral.
Since oolong tea contains a moderate amount of caffeine, it helps to increase focus and alertness. The energy kick can be enhanced by combining the caffeine with a touch of sugar. A study published in the Journal of Medical Investigation found that oolong tea doesn't just boost alertness, it can also increase energy metabolism. The study was conducted on 11 Japanese females. Results showed that energy expenditure increased by 10 percent after 120 minutes (1).
The energy-boosting properties of oolong tea may also help you reach your weight loss goals. First of all, oolong tea is naturally calorie-free. By replacing sugary soft drinks or energy drinks, you can save calories and lose weight faster.
Studies also show that oolong tea may help increase fat oxidation and boost metabolism. One such study published in the Journal of Nutrition examined the effects of oolong tea in a randomized crossover study of 12 men. The study showed that the men who drank full strength oolong tea had fat oxidation levels that were 12 percent higher than participants who only drank water (2).
Drinking oolong tea may help stave off heart disease and protect overall heart health. Studies show that regular tea drinkers have a lower risk of heart disease, likely due to the antioxidants present in true tea (3)(4)(5).
These studies show that regular oolong tea consumption can help lower heart disease markers including LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Drinking oolong tea may also help lower high blood pressure thanks to anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds help to reduce inflammation in blood vessels and arteries, increasing circulation and decreasing the risk of blood clots and heart attack.
Oolong tea contains large amounts of vitamin C that help boost the immune system. Research shows that high doses of vitamin C in the short term may help to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold and flu (6).
Drinking oolong tea while you are sick can help your body increase the production of T cells—natural antibodies that fight off invading pathogens. The anti-inflammatory properties of oolong tea also help to soothe a sore throat and alleviate chest congestion that can cause a cough.
Oolong tea may be beneficial for dental health thanks to a significant concentration of fluoride in the tea leaves. Fluoride is one of the main ingredients in dental toothpaste. One study published in the Pharmacognosy Review found that tea polyphenols help to prevent dental caries. The fluoride in tea leaves helps to eliminate plaque and fight infections that can cause tooth decay and cavities (7).
The same compounds in tea that boost dental help can help increase bone mineral density. In fact, one study published in Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics found that tea drinkers had higher bone density compared to non-tea drinkers. The study examined 680 postmenopausal women in China (8).
Drinking oolong tea may help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and treat some of the symptoms of the disease. Most researchers attribute these benefits to the fact that oolong tea helps to regulate blood sugar levels. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found a linear, inverse relationship between tea consumption and diabetes risk (9). The research shows that oolong tea helps to modulate blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity in certain individuals.
Oolong tea contains high levels of tea polyphenols known as antioxidants that can prevent oxidative stress damage caused by free radicals. One of these antioxidants is EGCG or epigallocatechin gallate. Researchers have studied EGCG extensively and found that the antioxidant may help prevent everything from certain types of cancers to premature aging (10).
Oolong tea is generally safe to consume in moderate amounts. Drinking too much oolong tea can result in an irregular heartbeat due to the moderate caffeine levels. Oolong tea may also interact with certain heart, blood sugar, and blood pressure medications so consult a healthcare professional before drinking oolong tea if you take these medications. Excessive oolong tea consumption may also inhibit iron absorption.
It's no secret that drinking tea can be good for your health. Medical studies have reinforced many of the potential health benefits of both true teas such as oolong tea as well as herbal teas.
Choose high quality loose tea to reap the maximum health benefits. Tea bags often contain fillers or broken leaves that don't have all of the healthy compounds of full tea leaves that come in loose tea variety.
Aim to drink anywhere from three to five cups of oolong tea per day. Brew up a hot cuppa or sip an iced tea and toast to your health. Fill up teacups with the Taiwanese varieties or opt for Chinese classical oolongs to discover new flavors.