Oolong tea is an ancient Chinese tea, with a history dating back over 400 years. Originally developed in the Fujian province of China during the Ming dynasty, Oolong translates as black dragon or black snake. Oolong tea is primarily produced in three regions: China, Taiwan and Sri Lanka.
Oolong tea lies somewhere between green and black tea. As a result, the taste spectrum can be quite broad - anywhere from the delicate, nearly-green pouchong, the subtler, richer tiguanyin to the nearly-black varieties. Generally speaking, Oolong tea has a refreshing and aromatic taste.
Oolong tea leaves are distinguished by their black, thread-like appearance when dried.
History of Oolong tea
There are various legends that describe the origin of Oolong tea.
One legend attributes the origin of Oolong tea to a man named Wu Liang. According to this legend, Wu was picking tea one day. As he was leaving, he spotted a river deer, killed it and took it home. Distracted by the preparation of the deer, he forgot to dry his tea.
A day or so later, when he finally remembered, the tea had changed color. Wu was worried that the tea was spoiled, but not wanting to waste good tea, continued with his drying.
After the tea was dried, he made a cup and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. The tea was mellow and aromatic. He made some for his neighbors as well, and very soon his name spread throughout the province. The tea eventually became known as Wu-Loong, or black dragon.
Production of Oolong tea
Oolong tea undergoes several stages of production to produce its taste.
The leaves are usually harvested in late spring to summer, although sometimes the leaves are harvested in winter. After harvesting, the leaves are sorted and dried.
When the drying is completed, the leaves are withered by shaking them vigorously in baskets. The action bruises the edges of the leaves, thus starting the oxidation process. Oxidation is when the leaves are fully exposed to the air - including its internal parts.
The oxidation process determines the character, taste and caffeine content of the tea, as well as its color - tea that has been oxidized for longer periods are known as dark oolongs, while tea with less oxidation are known as green oolongs.
After a period of oxidation - usually 15% to 75% - the leaves are fired to halt the process. The tea is then rolled, producing their distinctive appearance, and then is finally dried using charcoal.
Health benefits of Oolong tea
Oolong tea has several health benefits, the main benefit being cancer prevention. Oolong tea is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols - or tannin - which help prevent cancer. Tannin is known for its ability to help DNA cells reproduce accurately, thus preventing abnormalities from forming.
Other health benefits of drinking Oolong tea include reduced heart disease, better digestion and lowered cholesterol accumulation. In short, drinking oolong tea can improve a drinker's life on several levels.