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The Mysteries of Dark Oolong

The Wuyi Mountains of China's Fujian Province are a natural treasure chest. The area is full of treasured flora and fauna. The mountain formations and their remote location also mean the area remains relative free from pollutants. It is also home to some truly precious teas.

WuYi mountains. Home of rock tea.

Given the scale and history of tea production in Fujian Province, Wuyi teas were likely some of the first teas brought back to the West. They remain a welcome addition to many who appreciate roasted notes like those found in coffees, and can provide a warming sense of comfort during colder months.

One of the first things to notice about Wuyi and other oolongs is their darker color. Compared to the brighter green colors of many modern Anxi TieGuanYins, the dry leaves of oolongs tend toward dark brown or even bistre colours. These dark colours are associated with the more intense roasting these teas experience.

Tieguanyin oolong teaYan cha or rock tea. A world famous oolong from the Wuyi mountains of Fujian.





Left: TieGuanYin 'Jade' Oolong Tea

Right: Yan Cha / Rock Oolong Tea

It is tempting to think that roasting alone creates these classic teas. If roasting were the only defining characteristic, there would be little need to distinguish between historic oolongs like Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan, and Da Hong Pao.

In fact, it is possible for tea processors to abuse the practice of roasting. Some may collect teas from different varieties of tea bushes and excessively roast the leaves until there is a more uniform character. This blend may get marketed under the name Da Hong Pao, or some other classic tea.

To truly experience the rich world of darker oolongs, there are a few key teas to explore.

1. Tie Luo Han.

Tie Luo Han has been around since the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD). In many cases, Tie Luo Han is cultivated from cuttings from a "mother" plant. The genetics of these plants stays relatively identical even though they grow in a changing world. While we can't be fully certain of how the tea has changed over the centuries in terms of how it tastes, Tie Luo Han is known for having a roasted, stone-fruit element. Imagine a sweet summer peach cut in half and lightly charred over a fire. Superior quality Tie Luo Han has longer lasting flavours and a full bodied texture.

2. Ban Tian Yao.

Ban Tian Yao traces its recognition back to the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Like Tie Luo Han, its pedigree has been kept relatively pure by developing new plants from cuttings of mature plants. Cuttings increase the assurance of consistency that new seed cannot. It was originally found atop a peak of the Three Flower Mountains within the WuYi Mountain range. Its smoothness in mouth-feel balance with the complexity of flavour that includes elements of toasted rice and honey or molasses.

3. Jin Yao Shi.

This "newer" variety has only been developed and widely cultivated in the last few decades, but it has enjoyed rapid acceptance. Upon sipping, the liquor starts off sweet, then a welcome flash of briskness, followed by a silken finish.

Whether enjoying a classic dark oolong or a newcomer, Wuyi teas are said to have a distinct yan, or "rock" character. Many associate these qualities with the remote, rocky crevasses were the early plants were discovered in the higher mountains. The roasting process has been developed over centuries to enhance these notes rather than conceal them under a uniform process.

To fully appreciate the nuances in these teas, try them side-by-side to more easily recognize their differences while detecting the common rock qualities they share. A convenient starting point are our Tea Taster Collections so you can enjoy multiple oolongs together. A full selection of oolong teas can be bought here.

For more on Wuyi and Oolong teas:

China Tea Facts:


WuYi Oolong Tea


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