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WuYi Oolong Tea

WuYi Oolong Tea

WuYi Oolong Tea, is a category in it's own right. Not only are they many names to describe teas from the WuYi mountain region including WuYi cliff oolong tea, WuYi rock tea or Yan Cha. The category is made up of hundreds of tea plant cultivars and tea varieties though majority are classified as Oolong tea, the region is also famous for a number of black teas.

There are 5 classic, famous WuYi rock tea plant cultivars: Da Hong Pao, Ban Tian Yao, Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan and Shui Jin Gui. Other WuYi rock oolong teas are classed as 'cai cha', in other words have evolved from the classic 'mother' plants.

Each type of rock tea has it's own unique characteristics, from the appearance of the leave, the style and nuance of production and the resulting, taste, aroma and liquor. Most rock oolong teas will benefit from storing for between 2-3 years, such teas will gain a smoothness and balance that can be missing from young, newly harvested teas. WuYi Yan Cha i.e. WuYi rock teas are ideal for storing for even longer periods, though they do benefit from baking/roasting, 'tan bei' or 'bei huo' after 3-4 years depending on the storage environment. Typically the bei huo, process is completely slowly, using a bamboo baker over an electric heater. Some of these devices automatically move the tea to prevent too much heat being applied and so scorching/burning the Oolong tea, alternatively it is a manual process to ensure that the tea is evenly dried and baked.

Typically Wu Yi mountain oolong teas are more heavily oxidised than those of the lighter, Southern Oolongs such as Tie Guan Yin, from the Min Nan region of Fujian and hence have redder, darker dried leaves. The liquor too, is also of a warm rich flavour.

As with many regions and famous teas in China, increasingly teas grown outside of the region are being bought in to profit from the high prices and large demand of the WuYi mountain grown teas. In some cases the teas are fully processed outside and then bought to the tourist street of WuYi mountain city, others are mixed with genuine WuYi rock teas.

Here we introduce some of the famous WuYi oolongs along with some more unknown ones.

Da Hong Pao

The most famous of the Wu Yi mountain oolong teas of northern Fujian is Da Hong Pao or Red (scarlet) Robe tea. In truth with the exception of a very (very) select few we will never sample genuine Da Hong Pao as when these plants are harvested, at most they produce approximately 100g of dried tea leaf from the 6 mother plants. Furthermore in recent year none at all has been harvested due to the slow growth of the plants.

Xiao Hong Pao

What is available is Xiao Hong Pao, which is commonly sold as 'Da' Hong Pao. The difference is that this tea comes from clones or cuttings of the mother plants. It is possible to buy aged Xiao Hong Pao which is annually re-dried to maintain the quality of the leaves and to ensure a constant moisture level. The ageing process alters not only the outward appearance but also the flavour.

Bai Ji Guan

White chicken comb tea is easy to recognise from the appearance of the leaves during the infusion (Bai ji guan tea leaves). Unlike other Wu Yi mountain teas, both the fresh, dry and wet leaves are distinctly yellow. High quality Bai Ji Guan, a semi-oxidised tea i.e. Oolong, may be infused at least eight times, throughout which the colour remains the same.

Bai ji guan's name originates from the tea's appearance when it is still on the plant. The most expensive type of Bai Ji Guan is from Mu-Ben (Mother Root i.e. original plants), which are supposedly located at the outer ghost cave, below "Hui Yuan Huo Yan Feng". Bai Ji Guan is rumoured to one of the earliest, we known rock teas in China, with references dating back to the Ming dynasty.

Ban Tian Yao

These are cultivated from cuttings rather than from seedlings. Originally discovered growing on the top of the third peak of San Hua Feng or three flower peak in the WuYi mountains. The best time for harvest is usually early May.

Ban Tian Yao is characterised by its rich, honey aroma and distinctive WuYi essence.

Ban Tian Yao, can be literaturally translated as 'half way to the sky'. Many say it earned it's name to the precarious locations it is often found growing from!

Tie Luo Han

Tie Luo Han is another Guan Mu i.e. cultivated from cuttings rather than from seedlings. Typically Tie Luo Han is picked late April, around 20th onwards. Tea named Tie Luo Han has been documented as far back as the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279AD).

Shui Jin Gui

Harvested typically in early May, Shui Jin Gui Oolong is another of the original classic WuYi rock teas. First documented originating from Tian Xin Chan temple area, nearby the location of the Da Hong Pao plants.

Noted for its strong and distinctive aroma. Some people say Shui Jin Gui has a plum blossom hint to it. A refined liquor, that is full, yet balanced with sweet noted whilst still retaining that bold flavour that makes WuYi yan cha so appealing.

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