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Wuyi Rock Oolongs

The Location

tea-blog-ct-tradshuixiande0.jpgMany consider the ultimate location for oolongs to be Wuyi Mountains in the northern part of Fujian Province, China. Wuyishan is one of the most popular mountains in that range. Tea farming has been going on there for centuries. A perfect climate (humidity, high rainfall, dense fog, and annual temperatures of 12-18°C). The teas have richly brown leaves that infuse a liquid with a deep tawny brown liquor and an exceptionally smooth flavor and satisfying finish.

These teas are also commonly called “Rock Oolongs” or “Wuyi Rock Oolongs.” The name refers to what is called their unique “charm of rock,” referring to a rock-like aroma that enriches and mellows the flavor plus provides a sweet aftertaste that lingers.

All Wuyi rock Oolong teas have a unique rock tea taste and fragrance which other Oolong teas do not possess. This taste and fragrance can be described by four characteristics: aroma, cleanness, sweetness and animation. Unlike Tie Guan Yin teas, which focus on the high fragrance, Wuyi rock teas concentrate on the taste. That taste is a deep and heavy one which you can feel after drinking the tea liquid while the fragrance provides a background highlight.

Some Wuyi Rock Fujian Oolongs:

  • Bai Ji Guan (“White Cockscomb/ White Rooster”, 鸡冠, 白雞冠) – A light tea a lasting mellow fragrance and sweet taste, an orange and bright appearance.
  • Bai Sui Xiang (“100 year fragrance”) – An exceptionally high-grade Wuyi Mountain oolong. Sweet amber-green liquid has great depth that endures through many infusions.
  • Ban Tian Yao – A surprising flavor with layers of intense fruity aromas that come from roasting of the leaves. Ages well.
  • Da Hong Pao (“Big Red Robe”, 红袍, 大紅袍) – The most pronounced “charm of the rock” quality. It can be infused 7 or 8 times and still produce a high-quality liquid. Shop.
  • Fo Shou (“Buddha Hand”) – Since it is roasted (medium level), you can store it at room temperature for several years. A sweet, fruity aroma.
  • Qi Dan – A uniquely multi-dimensional flavor and a silky-smooth aftertaste that endures through multiple infusions. Naturally sweet and delicious with fruity overtones.
  • Qi Lan  – A lighter Wuyi Oolong with hui gan (a sweet aroma after drinking). It shares many characteristics with Qi Dan but has a quite different overall flavor.
  • Ròu Guì(“Cassia”, “Cassia Bark”, “Cinnamon”, 肉桂) – A strong, full-bodied tea that is both stimulating and refreshing. More info on our blog.Shop.
  • Shui Jin Gui (“Golden Marine Turtle”, 水金, 水金龜) – The liquid has an orange color and is clear and bright with a fragrance of plum blossom and a sweet taste with no bitterness.
  • Shui Xian (“Narcissus Oolong”, “Water Fairy”, “Water Immortal”) – Related to the Phoenix Mountain oolongs which are quite famous for their unparalleled fragrance. The leaves are murky dark green and give off an exquisite lacquered fragrance that goes well with the honey-orange colored liquid’s sweetness.
  • Tieluohan / Tie Luo Han  (“Iron Monk Arhat”, 铁罗汉, 鉄羅漢) - The leaves are weighty, close-textured twists with deep black-brown color. The flavor is extremely rich and mellow yet refreshing. An enduring mellow aftertaste.
  • Xiao Hong Pao (“Small Red Robe”) – The taste and fragrance has long-lasting floral undertones, a bold, honey-roasted finish, partly due to it being a heavily roasted tea.

Read More on Our Blog

More Information About Wu Yi Wulong (also Known as Oolong)

Wu Yi Yan Cha (Rock Wulong) is a special subcategory of Wulong tea grown in the vicinity of Wu Yi Shan City in northern Fujian Province, China.

Tea farmers in the Wu Yi Shan area have been producing tea there since around 1650. The area is considered a protected one for its biological diversity and significance as an ancient cultural site. Today, Wu Yi Shan wulong tea, known as “Yan Cha” (Rock Tea), is considered by many to be the pre-eminent style of wulong tea.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), Northern Fujian province became known as the top producer of tribute tea. The teas, as well as the fields and factories where they were made, became widely recognized as the best quality. The tea industry at that time was controlled by the government, which recognized this area as the epicenter. Also at that time all tea was essentially green tea that was compressed into cakes during its manufacture. The compressed tea from Wu Yi Shan was so sought after that it was renowned to be worth more than its weight in gold.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), tea masters changed from compressed to loose leaf form, encountering difficulty in retooling their entire production methods, involving things like pan-frying. They attempted to copy techniques from successful tea producers in Anhui. Still, the producers of Wu Yi Shan, being unfamiliar with how to make pan-fired green tea, inadvertently allowed their tea leaves to oxidize. This led to the partially oxidized teas we know as wulong or oolong as well as fully-oxidized black teas at the end of the dynasty. The area still produces the most sought after wulong (its famous Yan Cha) in the world.

Climate and Tea Plant Biology

Knowing about the growing region helps you understand the Wu Yi Yan Cha qualities. For centuries, tea scholars have studied the areas, including the plant diversity and unique climate. They identified hundreds of varieties of tea bushes, the most famous ones being Da Hong Pao, Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan, and Shui Jin Gui. Bushes said to be the originals of Da Hong Pao are said to be over 350 years old; they are still alive on the cliffs of Wu Yi Shan. These famous teas tend to be produced in small quantities, with most Wu Yi Shan teas coming from surrounding areas, the most common being Rou Gui, a cultivar that some locals rank as better than the more famous teas.

The Wu Yi Shan area has a mineral soil eroded from the volcanic rock faces. A layer of soft red soil lies about 10-40 cm thick on the ground of Wu Yi’s interior. This is the rich terroir that endows the characteristic flavor of Wu Yi tea. That flavor is known as Yan Yun (Rock Rhyme).

The average temperature throughout the year is 18°C, and there is a short frost time that does not kill tea plants. There is also plenty of precipitation, with a shroud of fog being common. Humidity averages 80%, keeping the soil moist which in turn keeps the plants healthy. Minerals continuously leech into the soil from the cliffs. These factors all compensate for the lower elevation of the region (about 650 meters).

Geographically, the area is rocky, with some being the size of a small mountain. The Zheng Yan Cha growing area of Wu Yi mountain is said to have 99 of these large rocks, a small part of the amount overall. Besides tea, the area is home to various myths and legends. One myth says that a princess was separated from her lover by a monster, all three represented by towering rocks. The princess and her lover are two tall monoliths, separated by a large plateau. The monster is the plateau, and it has many valleys scarring it. It is within the monster that the best teas grow, on its back and in the narrow, cliff-sided valleys in between. Rather charming way to describe the area.

The fundamental understanding of a Rock Wulong tea’s quality is the degree to which it exhibits “Yan Yun.” Yan Yun (Rock Rhyme) is the signature character of Wu Yi rock wulong. A combination not only of a tea’s flavor but its fragrance, color, and quality of liquor. This characteristic is a product of the special environment and mineral soil of Wu Yi Shan.

Typing Wuyi Tea

Commercially, Wuyi tea is typed by growing region:

  • Zhengyan Cha (Zheng Yan – “Center rock tea.”) – The soil consists solely of weathered rock soil. The soil composition changes outside of this region creating a noticeably different flavor from tea grown inside of it.
  • Ban Yan Cha (Ban Yan – “Half rock tea.”) – On the edge and in the surrounding foothills of the Zheng Yan area. The essential qualities of yan cha flavor are less apparent than those of teas grown in Zheng Yan but are still recognizable. Besides growing the famous cultivars, there are many teas that are not as famous but are still mysterious and special in their own right, like Shui Xian and Ba Xian.
  • Zhou Cha (Zhou Cha – “River bank tea.”) – Tea grown near the banks of Zhou and Huangbo Rivers. The quality is considered to be half that of Zheng Yan teas.