Green tea has received major buzz in the past couple of years, with literally every healthy person being an avowed drinker. It has passed the stage from being a punitive dietary choice to just what people drink these days—after all, it’s good for you. Many a dietician will tell you that it speeds up metabolism and is just overall great. Of course, the aftertaste coats the palate. Many describe it as bitter and harsh, but drink it nonetheless. A fancy hotel will offer you a spoon of organic honey with it and another a slice of lime—anything to make it go down easy. As someone who has never been a fan of milk tea—and a regular drinker (back in the day) of sweetened iced tea—drinking tea without milk is not big ask. Nonetheless, it had me setting out to discover teas that deliver more or different health benefits and I decided on oolong tea as my ‘tipple’ of choice for the immediate future. It has a far more discreet presence in the tea world than green tea. It’s not quite as ‘massy’ today, but, who knows, it might be the next big thing.
Oolong is posh, in the sense that it makes up only 2% of the world’s teas—and, of course, it’s from China. Tea Box in Darjeeling has well-priced oolong as well—our Darjeeling tea, in fact, is also great and should not be underestimated. But China does have the best teas in the world (I have a friend who goes over regularly and invariably brings back tea for me).
Oolong comes from the same family as green and black tea—that is, the same plant, Camellia sinensis, is used to make it. Where it differs, however, is in the processing. And it’s there that the real art of ‘tea-making’ reveals itself.
At the risk of stating the obvious, all tea starts out green. It’s the oxidation process that decides what the tea eventually becomes. In the case of green tea, the process of oxidisation is not permitted to carry on for too long, black tea goes all the way, while oolong is a bit of a moderate and falls somewhere in the middle—the quintessential centrist of the tea world.
Oolong tastes sublime. It doesn’t assault the senses or leave one with a lingering aftertaste. It’s simple to prepare—steep the tea leaves in hot water for about one-five minutes, depending on how strong you like it, and cover it as you do so. Don’t let it breathe, but let it steep, the water absorbing its gentle flavours and healthy components. Its preparation doesn’t reveal the complexity of its oxidisation process, which is carefully monitored and temperature-controlled.
You may also like to watch:
The health benefits, as per experts, are innumerable. It, of course, gives your metabolism a gentle jolt, but who’s complaining about that? Its enumerated benefits go far beyond that. But then, this is not a contest. Every tea boasts its benefits—new research appears every day confusing all of us. What is good today was terrible yesterday and vice-versa. Ghee actually turned out to be good for you after years of ‘roti par ghee mat dalo’ conservatism. And some people are saying, cholesterol doesn’t exist, or isn’t bad in any case! How can the ordinary consumer keep up?
But here’s what we do know about oolong tea: it contains antioxidants and the three main tea polyphenols—theaflavins, thearubigins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which have been known to display a positive role in helping manage blood sugar levels, energise stored fat cells and aid weight loss. There’s a clarification though: drinking tea doesn’t help you lose weight; no study has found that direct co-relation, but when you’re on a programme or a lifestyle change, it nudges it along. And that’s a fair expectation. Other claims about oolong say it has a positive impact on heart health and helps protect against certain cancers.
But here’s what got me: its positive effect on dental health. Oolong tea contains fluoride, which helps strengthen dental enamel. It further reduces dental plaque. Big win. And after three root canals in the past six months, I am taking to it with a straw.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad