Oolong Tea Facts – Health Benefits, Caffeine, and Varieties of Oolong Tea

Oolong tea, also spelled wulong or wu long, is a type of semi-oxidized tea, meaning that it is intermediate between black tea and green tea. This article summarizes some basic facts about oolong tea, including health information and an introduction to different varieties.

Oolong tea originated in China, and is produced and consumed primarily in China and Taiwan. The production process for oolong involves allowing the leaves to begin to oxidize, as one would in the production of black tea. However, before the oxidation is completed, the process is stopped by heating (usually roasting). The degree of oxidation and level of roast both vary considerably, leading to many different varieties with widely variable colors, flavors, and aromas.

How much caffeine does oolong tea contain?

Oolong tea, like all proper tea from the Camellia sinsensis plant, naturally contains caffeine. It is hard to generalize about how much caffeine is in oolong tea, as the caffeine content varies greatly from one tea to the next, and the amount in a brewed cup depends on the amount of leaf used and the steeping time. Most varieties yield between 15 and 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup under typical brewing conditions, significantly less than a typical cup of coffee. Decaffeinated oolong is not widely available.

Does oolong have any particular health benefits, like weight loss, over other types of tea?

Oolong tea is frequently marketed as a dieting or weight loss product, often under the name wu long. Most oolong teas marketed as weight loss products are inferior in quality and offer no additional health benefits over tea sold as a beverage. If you desire to drink oolong in order to lose weight, you would be better off buying high-quality loose oolong from a reputable tea company.

Although there is considerable scientific evidence that drinking tea brings numerous health benefits, particularly cardiovascular benefits including a lowered risk of heart attack, there is no factual evidence that oolong tea is any healthier than other teas such as black or green tea. The same is true for using tea as a weight loss product–there is no research concluding that oolong is superior to green, black, or white teas, and most known facts suggest that any weight loss properties are due to caffeine alone, which is known to aid weight loss.

The primary benefit of oolong teas over green, black, or other teas is that oolongs often have a smoother flavor and can be gentler on the stomach.

Varieties of Oolong Tea:

Although basic, generic “oolong” available in most Asian markets or served in most Chinese restaurants can be enjoyable, the true joy lies in exploring the numerous named varieties from particular regions. Oolong teas exhibit great diversity; some more closely resemble black tea whereas others are more suggestive of green tea. There is an oolong to suit everyone’s tastes.

Taiwanese Oolongs:

The lightest oolong, much like a green tea, is known as pouchong or bao zhong, and is popular in Taiwan. Progressing to darker varieties, Jade oolong is another greener variety, and amber oolong is intermediate in color and overall qualities. Darker oolongs from Taiwan are usually just labelled as formosa oolong, although a particular variety called dong fang mei ren or bai hao oolong is widely available.

Chinese Oolongs:

Most Chinese oolongs originate in Wuyi and Anxi in Fujian province. The most widely-known is arguably Tie Guan Yin, meaning Iron Goddess of Mercy. Also produced in Anxi are the se chung oolongs, including huang jin gui (golden osmanthus), qi lan (profound orchid), and many others. Many of these oolongs have floral aromas, and are available in different forms, with varying levels of roast. Famous Wuyi oolongs include da hong pao (big red robe), and rou gui (cinnamon). Also worth mentioning are the dan cong teas, such as feng huang dan cong. Some of these teas are remarkable in how they mimic the aromas of flowers or spices.

Health Benefits of Tea – How These Effects Vary Among Different Types of Tea

Discussion of the health benefits and health effects of tea has flooded the internet as well as print publications in recent years. Commonly mentioned health benefits include antioxidant activity, cancer prevention, lowering of cholesterol, lowering of blood pressure, reduction of stress, antibacterial and antimicrobial activity, and enhancing general health and promoting overall well-being. Tea, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, has a long history of use for health purposes. Tea originated thousands of years ago in ancient China as medicine used to treat various illnesses; over hundreds of years, tea gradually shifted first towards being viewed as a general tonic for good health, and then developed into being viewed a beverage as it is today.

Varieties of Tea:

Tea comes in many varieties, ranging from the least-processed white tea, to unoxidized but generally steamed or pan-fired green teas, through intermediate oolongs, fully-oxidized black teas, and aged pu-erhs. Each of these broad types comes in dozens if not hundreds of varieties, and within each variety, individual teas vary greatly from one estate, farm, or factory to another, and even from one year to the next (as they are influenced by variable factors such as weather). Different teas can have remarkably different flavors, aromas, and other characteristics. Not surprisingly, they have widely variable health benefits as well.

Are some varieties of tea healthier than others?

Green tea is widely touted as having a myriad of health benefits. Oolong tea (often spelled wu-long in this context) is often pushed as a dieting or weight-loss drink. Pu-erh tea is promoted as lowering cholesterol. White tea is often presented as having more antioxidants than other teas. Most of the sources making these claims are companies promoting their own products; they do not cite scientific studies backing their claims. While some of these claims about health effects are true, others can be misleading or even outright wrong.

Which of these claims are true?

Some of the most widespread and most misleading statements about tea are generalizations about one broad class (such as green, black, or white) being universally better than others are misleading. In reality, the health benefits vary much more among individual teas than they do among broad categories. Science firmly backs this perspective.

A 2005 article in the Journal of Food Science presented a study of the distribution of Catechins and other chemicals in 77 different teas. Catechins are the most well-known antioxidants in tea, and are well-established to have positive effects on health. Most of the teas studied were ones widely available in supermarkets in the U.S.

The results are astounding: among black teas, the tea with the most Catechins had over 12 times as much as the one with the least. Among green teas and others (including white and oolong) the factor was even larger. While green teas tended to have more Catechins than black teas, a number of black teas ranked higher than many of the green teas. Also, black tea contains theaflavins, antioxidants not found in green tea except in tiny traces. If we accept these measures as a good indicator of health value, this study firmly establishes that the health effects of tea must be addressed on the level of individual teas, not broad categories.

So how do we maximize our health benefits when drinking tea?

This seems to present a problem. If we are seeking health benefits such as antioxidants, and these benefits vary widely from one tea to the next, how are we to choose what to drink? An obvious long-term solution is for scientists to study and publish the antioxidant content of more teas, and also to continue researching and questioning the validity of various claims of health benefits. But until this is done, the best we can do is to explore drinking a wide variety of different teas…and perhaps more importantly, to be skeptical of bold claims and sweeping generalizations that are made without reference to rigorous scientific research.

Weight Loss and Good Health? Forget the Fad Diets and Try Balance and Variety

Seek balance and variety for weight loss and good health. Many of us who try to lose weight think we need to restrict our diets severely and adopt rigid, even uncomfortable, eating habits to accomplish our goals. We don’t realize that the best strategy for losing weight is to gradually change our attitudes toward food, rather than bouncing from one “fad diet” to another.

It’s not necessary to limit our diet to only a few foods to lose weight. Of course, some foods are more healthful than others, and it is true that we won’t lose weight unless we take in fewer calories than we use. But we can maximize the nutritional value of the calories we do eat and feel comfortable while losing weight.

Here are some guidelines we recommend for your good health and weight loss:

  • Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Be adventurous and try unfamiliar varieties. These foods are nutrient-dense and calorie-light, and should form the backbone of your eating plan. Include a salad as part of every dinner.
  • Use whole grains, beans, nuts (in moderation), and seeds to provide healthy carbohydrates and fats. Beans and whole grains in combination are powerhouses of protein and dietary fiber and are less expensive than meat.
  • Cut down on meats, especially fatty ones like ground beef and processed meats like sausage and cold cuts. These foods burden the body with metabolic waste products and are not needed as protein sources if you are eating beans and grains. If you choose to eat meat, use small amounts as a condiment to provide flavor. Avoid making meat the focus of your meals.
  • Avoid processed foods of all kinds, including boxed mixes, and packaged pre-prepared food like TV dinners. These foods are often high in fat and salt, heavy in cheap refined carbohydrates, and don’t contain fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Learn to cook for yourself. Restaurant food, and especially fast food, is nearly always unhealthy. You can make simple stir-fry dishes that are fast and nutritious. Make large batches of time-consuming dishes and freeze some for later.
  • Make the transition away from soft drinks and other high-sugar drinks. Drink plenty of water. Get a filter pitcher for your fridge or an under-sink filter if your tap water tastes of chlorine or other minerals. Remember that drinking water from plastic bottles may be good for your body, but it’s hard on the planet.
  • Get out and get some fresh air and exercise. Walking is great for you and can be done almost anywhere.
  • Enjoy your food! Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude about food and the pleasures of mealtime.

The above tips are not a recipe for instant weight loss, but instead for the building of a healthy lifestyle. If you focus on health, weight issues will resolve themselves over time, and your life in general will become more joyful. Good luck!