Insider’s guide to chinese teas – part 2 oolong

Insider’s Guide to Chinese Teas – Part 2 Oolong

Wiping the sweat from his brow whilst tending his drying tea leaves, a farmer spotted a black serpent nearby. Startled and worried, he ran off and did not return for a few days, thus ensuring the serpent was no longer around. Unfortunately, he had left his leaves in the full glare of the Southern Chinese sun and the leaves had changed colour. Out of curiosity, he brewed them and found that they gave a pleasant, sweet and floral flavour. Oolong tea was born.

OK, that is one of the interesting legends that seem to surround the origins of many types of tea and is probably not literally true. Oolong tea seems to date back only to the end of the Ming Dynasty, around 400 years ago. No one really knows for sure. Oolong is a cross between Green and Black teas, it is processed much more than Green but less than black and is oxidised somewhere between 15 and 70 percent. The first stage of the processing is to bruise the leaves so that they can oxidise more readily. Once oxidised to the extent required, the tea leaves are rolled and fired to halt the oxidation process. Those with less oxidation are sometimes referred to as

“green Oolongs” whilst ones that are at the top end of the oxidation scale are “brown Oolongs”.

The tea therefore is supplied in small balls which expand in the cup to produce their delicate floral aroma and flavour. There are a wide variety of Oolong teas available so if you have tried one, do not think that you know the flavour of Oolong.

In common with all pure, organic Chinese teas, this type is believed to confer health benefits. It has been demonstrated that the polyphenols (anti-oxidant chemicals) that are present in the tea can destroy free radicals. Free radicals are implicated both in heart disease and cancer situations. The levels are less than in Green teas but are still significant, which makes Oolong a healthy drink.

This tea is very often used as the basis of slimming (or weight loss) teas. Certainly it is a low calorie alternative to other drinks as it is taken without milk or sugar, but it would need much more research under strictly controlled conditions to determine if it genuinely helps. Checking on forums about the subject, some people swear by it and claim that it has been very successful whilst others say they have noticed no difference. So maybe it just works for some? Whatever the truth, it would need to used as part of a diet and exercise programme rather than as a silver bullet that solves obesity.

Getting hold of this tea can sometimes be problematical; very few tea shops will offer it, unless they are high-class and sell gourmet teas. Buying it in health shops is not always possible, they tend to stock green teas and mainly teas in tea bags, which are too highly processed to retain the flavour and goodness. However, if you are willing to buy via the internet, there are plenty of retailers. But beware, not all are equal. To have the best experience of Oolong tea, avoid tea bags, avoid the cheap ones. Choose pure, organic loose varieties – these are more expensive but will give you the best flavour and aroma.

To summarise; the complexity, regional varieties and level of oxidation create a variety of different tastes within a single type of tea – try several and you will see what I mean.

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