Oolong

Green or Black? Sometimes you can't decide. Normally the middle ground is the province of those who just can't commit. But when it comes to tea drinking, compromise is no vice. Try Oolong.
 
The word comes from the Chinese, meaning 'Black Dragon' and there are a dozen legends surrounding the origin of the name. But one thing is certainly no myth: this is a fine tea.

Midway between a black and a green, Oolong originated in the Fujian Province near the end of the Ming Dynasty 400 years ago. It gradually migrated to Formosa (now Taiwan) and has been a staple product of that noble nation ever since. Though, the majority still comes from Wu Yi Shan mountain in China.

It is not only a delight to taste, when well prepared, but has a distinctive aroma owing to its moderate oxidation and careful processing. The floral scent and slightly astringent mouthfeel bears a similarity to a fine wine. And that is no accident.

Most of the processing is carried out by hand, beginning with the careful plucking by individual farm workers. Selecting an Oolong for harvesting is done as carefully as the picking of perfect grapes by vineyard workers.

Unlike most teas, running hot water through the Oolong leaves more than once can actually enhance the flavor. This rinses away any residual dust or other contaminants from processing. The second bath brings pure Oolong flavor into the cup. This special Taiwanese method of tea preparation has brought the Oolong to the pinnacle of a fine brew.

But more than just a delectable, relaxing drink Oolong also has many health benefits. Research strongly suggests that Oolong is good for several different body systems. The beneficial effects for the digestive system are well known and well documented.

But recent studies suggest that the volatile aromatic vapors from Oolong help dislodge toxic residues from the bronchia and air sacs of the lungs. They can then be expectorated (coughed up and spat out). This effect may help to explain why Chinese men, among the heavier smokers on the planet, tend to have fewer cases of lung cancer.

Oolong teas also contain plentiful amounts of the antioxidants polyphenol and catechins. These help gather free radicals from the blood stream, which are removed during urination. Free radicals are ionized molecules that, in concentration, destroy cell membranes and have other harmful effects.

Oolong comes in a hundred varieties, and nearly every one can be found at some Chinese restaurant or other. There is the Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe), the Shui Jin Gui (Water Turtle) and many other delightful kinds with equally evocative names. The Golden Buddha produces a light brew, while the Water Sprite is a dark tea. The Dong Ding from Nantou in central Taiwan is a favorite of those who favor Oolong.

But there are times when you want to have a cup without the accompanying Dim Sum. Fear not, for any of those varieties is available online with a few mouse clicks. Drink up!