If black tea and green tea had a baby, it would be a little like oolong tea. Slightly grassy with a hint of sweetness, oolong is a bit harder to track down than its cousins Earl Grey, matcha, or English breakfast, but it’s definitely worth going out of your way to find given its impressive health-boosting, stress-reducing benefits.
“It has similar health benefits to black and green tea and is actually made from the same leaves as green tea. The difference is how it is processed,” explains registered dietitian Amy Shapiro, RD. “Green tea leaves are not allowed to oxidize much and black tea is. Oolong falls somewhere in the middle.” Here, Shapiro gives the scoop on what makes it so great.
1. It can help the body manage stress. Shapiro says oolong tea contains l-theanine, an amino acid that’s associated with sleep and relaxation. “This is what is responsible for the relaxing effect oolong tea has,” she says. Scientific research shows that l-theanine stimulates alpha waves in your brain, which are associated with a relaxed, focused state of mind. Of course, oolong also has caffeine, so you’ll feel focused, not sleepy. (So, better as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up than a bedtime drink.)
2. Oolong tea is full of polyphenols. Shapiro also points out that oolong tea is high in polyphenols, which are linked to lowering inflammation and help protect the body against free radicals and prevent the growth of cancers and other illnesses.
3. It may lower a person’s Type 2 diabetes risk. “This is likely because of the high amount of polyphenols and antioxidants,” Shapiro says of this connection. (Basically, the antioxidants in the tea could help lower blood sugar levels.) “Also, because oolong tea can help with maintaining a healthy weight, that in turn can help prevent Type 2 diabetes.”
4. It may be good for brain health. Scientists have found that consuming oolong tea could help prevent cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s because of its high content of EGCGs and l-theanine. “One reason may be due to the caffeine in the tea as caffeine increases neurotransmitter activity in the brain,” adds Shapiro. “Also, the l-theanine reduces anxiety and increases alertness and attention. Finally the antioxidants and poly phenols in the tea also help,” she adds.
5. It could help protect against certain cancers. “Oolong tea is abundant in antioxidants much like green and black tea which has also been shown to fight and prevent certain cancers and illnesses in the body including oral cancer along with lung, esophageal, pancreatic, liver, and colorectal cancers,” Shapiro says. “However, more research is needed on oolong specifically since most of the research is on green and black teas.” To her point, because oolong tea isn’t as popular as black or green, there is less research on it.
Like black or green teas, oolong tea can be enjoyed hot or iced; the temperature won’t affect all the amazing health benefits. When making your tea, allow it to steep for a full five minutes to get the maximum potency.
As mentioned, oolong tea isn’t as popular as some other tea varietals, but if you can’t find it at a locale cafe or tea shop, it’s readily available online. Teamonk Global, Bigelow, Twinings, and Republic of Tea all have oolong tea as part of their collections. Bottoms up!