If you haven't tried oolong, you're in for a treat.

By Betty Gold
February 02, 2021
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Here at Real Simple, it's no secret that we're categorically obsessed with tea. And why not? After water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, so we must be on the same page. It's soothing, incredibly delicious, and packed with health benefits, from matcha's antioxidant properties to chamomile's natural ability to induce relaxation and guayusa's anti-inflammatory perks.

If you're growing tired of your standard Earl Grey or green (it does happen), remember that there are endless other options. Our current fixation, however, falls on oolong.

What Is Oolong Tea and What Does It Taste Like?

Oolong tea is partially "fermented" tea. Plucked leaves are withered and allowed to ferment (aka oxidize) before drying. Oolongs lie between green and black teas on a sliding scale.

"But to best understand oolong tea, you first must know a little bit more about green and black tea," says Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Council of the USA. "All come from the leaves of the tea plant—Camellia sinensis—and are known as true teas. Green tea is not oxidized, meaning it is not exposed to oxygen for any extended period during its manufacture. It remains green in color and has a grassy, hay-like flavor. Black tea, on the other hand, is fully oxidized—it gets exposed to air for an extended period so that the natural chemical reaction taking place in the leaf is complete before it is dried. Black tea is darker in color, provides a reddish hue in cup, and has a stronger body."

According to Goggi, oolong is a tea the is only partially oxidized. "Its final color and strength in cup depend on how long oxidation takes place," he says. "Some oolongs are minimally oxidized and others are very oxidized. This means that there is a wide range of typical oolong flavors. However, the most valued oolongs are clear and light in color when brewed and have a distinct peach and/or pear flavor."

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Oolong Tea Benefits

"Emerging data suggests that black tea, green tea, and oolong tea can all increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human intestine," explains Samina Kalloo, RDN, CDN. "Research surrounding the link between food and the gut microbiome continues to surface, and more studies are exploring the link between the ingestion of specific beverages, particularly tea, in promoting gut health." Remember: A balanced gut microbiome is key to a strong immune system.

"In addition to its unique taste and aroma as a semi-fermented tea, oolong tea possesses a characteristic compound called theasinensins, which is a group of tea polyphenols (a potent antioxidant) that has been shown to have health-promoting properties," Kalloo says. "While further studies are needed on the bioavailability of theasinensins, current data suggests these compounds may play a key role in the health benefits of oolong tea, including the anti-hyperglycemic—aka blood sugar balancing—and anti-inflammatory effects."

According to Kalloo, all true teas (black, green, white, oolong, and dark) contain potent benefits of the amino acid L-theanine. "Studies investigating L-theanine and caffeine—the components of true teas originating from the Camellia sinensis plant—have found that L-theanine is associated with improved relaxation, tension, and calmness," she says. "L-theanine helps you relax by reducing the stimulation caused by caffeine. Studies have also found that L-theanine and caffeine support attention and memory and minimize distraction. In addition, a 2020 review of studies examining pure L-theanine concluded that 200 to 400 milligrams per day of L-theanine may help reduce stress and anxiety in people in stressful conditions."

How to Prepare Oolong Tea

According to the Tea Council of the USA, a smart rule of thumb for preparing tea is that the larger and more delicate-looking the leaf, the lower the water temperature. "Usually, you will want to use between 180-190°F water for big oolongs and white teas," Goggi explains. Black teas need much hotter water for proper extraction, while boiling water will scorch a bold leaf like white tea. "Time is a little different since oolongs will need to steep a bit longer than white tea—oolongs should steep five to seven minutes; white tea three to four minutes. Of course, all of this may be modified according to your own personal taste. These instructions are only to be used as a starting point." Everyone should adjust time, temperature, and amount of tea up and down until they find their perfect pot.