Unless you are only just starting with tea, chances are you have you heard of ‘green tea’ and ‘oolong tea’, and most likely in that order and even pegged against one another. Like the mention of butter right after bread, oolong tea and green tea are spoken of, quite often, in the same breath across most tea circles. In fact, rarely do you come across analogies of this nature in the little world of tea, so explicit and frequent. Typically, each tea type is held sacred and special for its own singular virtues, but in the case of oolong tea vs green tea, the convention is a bit looser.
The Truth About Oolong Tea VS Green Tea
All tea comes from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis – and they all contain similar kinds of antioxidants. But, not all teas are created equal nor do they all have the same measures of antioxidants in them. Essentially there are 6 main types of tea, starting with the white, green, oolong, black and, finally, the Pu-erh. There’s also such a thing as a ‘yellow tea’, which flanks somewhere between a green and an oolong, but tending towards oolong.
The differences arise as a result of the way each tea is made. It could be that the leaves are left whole, broken or, in the case of oolongs, just slightly bruised. Then there’s the matter of oxidation – green tea and black tea hold each end of the spectrum while oolongs, being semi-oxidized, flank somewhere in between.
Green teas are non-oxidized. They are fixed by the application of heat as soon as they are plucked, as result of which they still retain a lot their “green”. Oolongs, on the other hand, are slightly oxidized. Fresh leaves are allowed to wilt in the sun, shaken and tossed every once in a while, which causes the leaves to bruise slightly. In some cases, oolongs are fixed right away – pan-fired and dried. And because they aren’t allowed to oxidize, they retain some of the green, leafy attributes resembling green tea. Hence the analogies.
Sometimes, however, while making oolongs, wilted leaves are allowed some bit of oxidation, if the leaf has the potential to deliver better flavour due to it. However, it’s a controlled effort and monitored closely by the tea maker. Full oxidation will cause theanine and thearubigin-like compounds to develop, and that will turn the tea into a black.
In the spectrum that extends between greens and blacks, oolongs can tend toward either. Minimally oxidized oolongs are a lot like greens – vegetal but more restrained and smoother. Those oxidized about 70% of the way resemble blacks, but less tannic and not astringent at all.
Oolong teas are typically made early in the harvest season, using young leaves, prime with flavours and potential. Greens tend to be made towards the end of the pluck cycle. There’s no good reason why, but it’s an outcome of convention and the fact that the first few leaves lend themselves better to the production of whites, blacks, and oolongs.
Speaking of antioxidants, green teas are a rich source epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – a potent antioxidant known to positively affect the human body in a lot of ways. And though this compound is present in all the other types as well, it’s most abundantly available in greens, possibly because the leaves aren’t oxidized and the integrity of the enzyme is better ensured.
On the flavour front, there’s no good way to compare an oolong tea vs green tea. It’s just that oolongs that tend to be minimally oxidized mimic some of the flavours found in green teas – a great example of this is the Chinese Tie Guanyin oolong which is so visibly bright green and also green tea-like in taste.
In the context of consumption, green edges towards mainstream, slightly. And unlike it, oolongs did not burst on the scene, leaving behind an Instagram trail of avid tea drinkers and health enthusiasts impassioned by its possibilities and health benefits. Oolongs remain a connoisseur’s pick. It’s a complex class of tea, easy to drink but difficult to appreciate, and champions of this tea seek it out for this very reason; the possibility for snobbery is endless with an oolong.
In the debate of oolong tea vs green tea, there’s really no winner. It’s best to go by your palate and enjoy each for its own unique virtues. And when there are so many of each to choose from (Halmari has an extensive selection of greens and an oolong), you’ll have plenty to experiment with.