I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely fascinated by tea—it’s history, many flavors, health benefits, the ceremony around it, how it’s shaped cultures around the world, tea as an art form…the whole package.
In fact, when our patients arrive at our clinic, The Santa Monica Wellness Center, the first question we ask them is, “May I offer you some tea?”
Drinking tea is also one of my favorite ways to maintain a sense of calm, while staying clear and focused throughout the day. Today’s article will explore some some pretty cool facts behind traditional Chinese tea culture with a spotlight on Oolong tea.
Tea has been around for centuries, and is believed to have been discovered in 2737 BCE by Chinese Emperor Shennong.
As a scientist (and health advocate), Shennong insisted all water in the country be boiled before consumption to prevent the spread of disease.
During a trip with his court, they stopped to rest and drink. While water was boiled for drinking, some leaves fell into it from a nearby bush. The leaves turned the water a rich brown color and the Emperor was intrigued, so he drank it.
As the story goes, he found the infusion very refreshing and thus, ancient Chinese tea culture was born.
Tea has significantly influenced Chinese culture in terms of economics, religion, etiquette, medicine, class, the arts, and even politics.
For example, the practice of tea drinking traveled throughout Europe and many other nations via the Silk Road and other channels of trade.
In ancient times, “tea drinkers” were considered cultural elites, which led to increased demand for Chinese teaware made from porcelain (aka: fine China).
Many powerful political alliances were formed in Chinese tea houses, and the custom of preparing and serving tea in China holds many meanings—from showing respect to celebrating special occasions.
In summary, there are few natural resources which have shaped the landscape and culture of China, and many other nations, as much as the humble tea leaf.
Tea leaves were also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help a variety of ailments, including:
Today, scientists attribute most of tea’s health benefits to its naturally-high polyphenol antioxidant content.
Did you know, despite the plethora of tea choices found in your local tea shop, that are only 4 types of tea?
The major difference between the four is their fermentation and oxidation process, which affects their flavor, nutrient composition, and color.
Oolong is a semi-fermented tea which lies somewhere between unfermented green tea and fermented black tea.
Native to the Wuyi Mountain region of China, it has a bolder, earthier flavor than unfermented green tea—which earned it a special reputation in ancient China, where only green tea had been available to that point.
Unlike green tea, it is allowed to partially oxidize, which gives it its bolder flavor and color (black tea, for example, is fully oxidized).
Despite it’s incredible flavor and health benefits, Oolong accounts for only 2% of the world’s tea production1…which is part of the reason we’re learning about it today.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, humble Oolong is useful for:
Per modern research, Oolong’s health benefits include:
There is also some evidence that drinking Oolong tea is protective against cancer, but of this writing, the case is stronger for green tea as an anti-cancer medicinal12.
As you probably know, Americans have a ghastly reputation among the British and the Chinese for our tea preparation methods: boil water (or worse, microwave it!), pour it on the tea, and drink.
In Chinese culture, different teas should be prepared with different temperatures of water and using different methods depending upon the type of flavor, caffeine level, and overall experience you hope to achieve.
Here are the basics on how to prepare a proper cup of Oolong tea:
We’ll be sure to feature more content about green, black, and white teas in future posts, as they all have fascinating histories and health benefits behind them.
In the meantime, if you’re a green tea or matcha enthusiast, be sure to check out my previous article: “Green Tea or Matcha? What You Need to Know”.
Cheers to tea and good health!
This piece originally appeared on http://patriciafitzgerald.com
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