Oolong is harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant, the same place we get black, green, white, and matcha tea. It’s not very popular in the United Kingdom, but it is hugely popular in China, where most of the world’s best oolong tea is produced.
It has been claimed that oolong tea can provide a number of health benefits, and in this guide, we’ll put those benefits under the microscope while discussing this tea’s origins and nutritional composition in a little more detail.
What is Oolong Tea?
Unlike black tea, which is fully oxidised, or green tea, which is not oxidised at all, oolong tea undergoes partial oxidisation, which means it has a deeper and richer flavour than green or white tea but is not as complex as black tea. The amount of oxidation differs depending on the type of oolong tea being produced, but it’s always considerably less than black tea.
The tea is often wrapped into balls, or “pearls”, which unfurl while they steep just like jasmine tea. There are many different varieties and they all deliver a varied taste profile, from light and refreshing to dark and complex.
This tea can be consumed with or without milk, and in recent years, it has become popular as an alternative to black tea in bubble tea.
Benefits of Oolong Tea
There have been a lot of studies on the benefits of green and black tea, and oolong tea has been left relatively untouched by comparison. But there are still some conclusions to be made from the few studies that exist on oolong tea and from the studies that have been conducted on tea in general.
1. May Reduce Cancer Risk
A number of studies have shown that tea-drinkers have a lower risk for a number of chronic diseases, including cancer. This makes sense when you consider they are a great source of antioxidants and that these compounds are known to fight disease-causing free radicals within the body.
It has been suggested that white, green, and oolong tea drinkers are more at risk of oesophageal and mouth cancer, with the idea that this is the result of drinking scalding hot liquid, but a 2013 metaanalysis contradicted this when it found that tea drinkers were 15% less likely to develop oral cancer. (1)
It seems that tea can play a protective role, and there is no shortage of evidence to back this up, but it cannot reverse the effects of a bad diet and lifestyle, and you should avoid consuming scalding hot tea to be on the safe side. This is less of an issue in the UK, as cold milk is often added and this brings the temperature down, but it’s worth keeping in mind nonetheless.
2. May Improve Bone Density
A few studies have found a correlation between a higher bone density and oolong tea consumption. One study found that habitual tea-drinkers had elevated bone mineral density when compared to non-tea-drinkers. (2) This could be the result of oolong’s fluoride content, as it contains around 20% to 25% of your RDA of this mineral per cup.
3. Oolong Tea and Weight Loss
Oolong is one of many teas that can apparently boost the metabolism and lead to weight loss. As we have mentioned before, the vast majority of weight-loss teas are not what they seem, but there could be some truth where oolong is concerned
Countless studies have found that the catechins found in tea can promote weight loss and help in the treatment of obesity, and they do this in several ways. (3) However, all of these have a marginal effect at best, and a few cups of oolong tea is not going to help you drop several pounds of fat a week, nor will it lead to weight loss if you’re in a calorie surplus.
As part of a healthy lifestyle, oolong can help decrease body fat, but not significantly, and not to the extent that has been claimed. We’ve seen reports online suggesting that oolong tea can boost the metabolism by as much as 15%, a claim that seems to have been plucked out of thin air.
Other Benefits of Oolong Tea
This semi-oxidised tea may also improve energy levels due to its caffeine and catechin content, and there are suggestions that theanine, which is prominent here and in green tea, could lead to improved focus and reduced anxiety.
There are a number of other apparent benefits, as well, but it’s worth noting that tea extracts, and green tea extract in particular, have found to have the opposite effect. They have been used to positive effect in some studies, but only in small and controlled does over a limited time. If they are taken to excess for a prolonged period of time, they can lead to serious issues, including liver failure.
It seems preposterous when you consider how many supplements contain tea extracts and how safe they are presumed to be, but one official source notes that there have been at least 50 recorded cases of these extracts causing serious liver injury. (4)
Caffeine in Oolong Tea
There is approximately 30mg to 40mg of caffeine in each cup of oolong tea, which means it has a little more than green tea and white tea, and less than black tea, which in turn has a lot less than coffee. You will get around a quarter of your RDA of manganese (a mineral that is also abundant in black tea) as well as trace amounts of magnesium, potassium, and more.
It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, but antioxidants really make this tea special and it has those in abundance.
The Best Varieties
This is all down to preference, but most of the world’s oolong teas are produced in China, and it is said that the best are grown in the Wuyi Mountains, one of the most celebrated tea regions in the world. Located in northern Fujian, this region is said to have invented black tea and oolong tea. Its unique climate, extensive history, and insistence on traditional methods means it continues to be seen as the home of great tea.
The oolong teas from this region are said to be very complex and rich, as they are fired heavily, which is the term given to a method of dry cooking that removes moisture from the leaves. Of course, these teas are also very expensive and are therefore not the best starting point for someone trying oolong for the first time.