By Lia Blanchard
At one end of the tea spectrum we have green tea – light, aromatic and unfermented. At the other end is black tea – darker and full-bodied, utilizing fully oxidized (“fermented”) leaves.
In between are the oolong teas – partially fermented, often flavored, and very popular.
Wide variety of flavors
Oolong tea is 10-90% oxidized, producing a taste that ranges from light and floral to dark and rich. Factor in diverse methods of fermentation and a host of different additives for scent and/or flavor, and “oolong tea” produces a wide variety of flavors indeed.
Each oolong producing region – primarily in China, Taiwan, and India – has its own style of processing tea. Leaves are rolled, curled or shaken, mixed with other plants for flavor and aroma (or not), and may be “fired” by heat once or many times over several days to produce smokier flavors.
Popular additives for scent and flavor include florals with the lighter teas – jasmine, lilac, and gardenia – and fruits with the darker teas – peach, passion fruit, and pear are just a few.
Weight loss tea?
Oolong is often marketed as an aid to weight loss, with exotic-sounding brand names and claims of instant slimming.
Don’t believe it.
Oolong tea is produced from camellia sinensis just like black tea and green tea. It is the level of oxidation and the different processing methods that provide different flavors and differentiate “green” from “black” and “oolong” teas. Be aware that many “slimming teas” have diuretics and laxatives, providing an unhealthy and very temporary result.
If caffeine – or avoiding it – is important to you, it is helpful to know that caffeine levels increase with oxidation; therefore, black teas have the highest amounts of caffeine, while amounts in green tea are very small.
Unlike other teas, oolong is said to get better with multiple steeping. It is not uncommon for a high-quality oolong to be steeped up to five times. Part of the fun of oolong tea is discovering which of the many varieties most appeals to you, and which steeping brings out the best flavor.
Next: What about white tea, yellow tea, and herbal tea?