The Many Fabulous Flavours of Delicious Oolong Tea
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea originating from the Wuyi Mountains and Anxi district of the Fujian Province, with a history going back over centuries. Made from the leaves, stems and buds of the Camellia sinensis plant, Oolong teas are in a class of their own, being neither green nor black teas, but somewhere in between. The characteristics of a particular Oolong depend on how long the leaves have been allowed to oxidize, creating a diverse range of flavours. Teas that undergo 10-45% oxidation are more like green teas, with fresh and delicate flavours and aromas, whereas those further oxidized by 40-70% become more like black teas; full-bodied, with woody or sweet caramel notes, and toasty aromas. Leaves will vary in colour, from different shades of green to golden brown and darker.
There is uncertainty as to the meaning of the name 'Oolong', but many stories have been told over time about its origins. As it is sometimes referred to as 'Wulong', some believe the name comes from its area of origin in the Wuyi Mountains. Another suggestion is that the word 'wulong' means 'black dragon' in Chinese, and that the long, curled leaves of Oolong tea resemble this mythical creature. One popular legend tells of a tea picker called Wuliang, who was distracted from his work one day by a deer, and by the time he returned to it the tea had started to oxidize. Rather than the leaves being ruined, this happy accident is supposed to have been the beginning of a new, delicious tea.
Although Oolong teas were predominantly cultivated in China and Taiwan, where growing conditions are similar, other types of Oolong are now being produced in countries such as Japan, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. This means the unique characteristics of these teas are also influenced by the cultivar and terroir of the tea plant, as well as by processing methods. The production of Oolong tea generally involves several steps. Plucked leaves are first withered by being laid out in the sun, where moisture evaporates and the leaves soften. The leaves may be tossed or shaken to bruise them, breaking down their cell structure to release essential oils. The process of oxidation can then be carried out either manually, by the leaves being spread on racks and regularly turned, or mechanically by being heated in rotating cylinders. Once they have been oxidized to the required degree, they are roasted, or fired, to halt the process, before being rolled to achieve their twisted appearance. They can then be dried and sorted.
Oolong teas are reputed to offer a vast range of health-giving benefits. As well as being a source of vitamins and minerals, they contain antioxidants such as polyphenols, that can play an important role in the prevention of some of today's common illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes. They also help protect against free-radical damage. Regular consumption of Oolong tea is thought to help with weight loss by speeding up metabolism. It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and been linked to improvements in skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis. It contains the amino acid, theanine, thought to promote feelings of calm and relaxation, and is also believed to be beneficial in increasing bone mineral density and strengthening tooth enamel.
When preparing a cup of Oolong tea, leaves can benefit from a preliminary rinse with almost boiling water to enable them to unfurl. This water should then be discarded and the leaves steeped again for 4-5 minutes. Suggested quantities are 3g of tea to 250ml of water, at a temperature of approximately 203ºF (95ºC). It also makes an excellent iced tea. Oolong tea should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from foods with strong odours. The more oxidized teas will usually stay fresh for longer.
At Tea-Direct.co.uk we stock a wide variety of Oolong teas as part of our range of hundreds of wonderful loose leaf teas and sumptuous infusions from around the world. Through our network of gifted buyers, we carefully select the very finest varieties for your enjoyment, and swiftly deliver them directly to your home, work or anywhere else!