大红袍 Da Hong Pao
|Dàhóng páo / 大红袍/Big Red Robe
|Wuyi Mountain, Fujian
|Wulong (or, Oolong) tea (80% oxidation); most oxidized of the wulong teas (looks like a black tea)
|Open, crepey leaf
|Brew three/four times at 90°C
Dahongpao is part of the Wuyi Cliff Tea family, a group of Oolong teas collectively ranks in China’s top ten teas. Wuyi Mountain is in Fujian Province, a region famous for its superior Oolong
tea. As the name Wuyi Cliff Tea suggests, the tea grows in the cliffs of Wuyi Mountain.
Wuyi Mountain is about 650 meters above sea level. Creeks run through the rocks and cliffs, making it a unique yet accommodating breeding ground for tea. There have been a lot of legends surrounding Dahongpao, partly due to the almost ethereal environment that it grows in. In the cliffs still exist 4 to 6 “mother trees”, i.e. the oldest living Dahongpao trees planted almost 400 years ago. Only a few kilos of tea are harvested from these trees every year, fetching million Renminbi price tags at auctions. The China National Museum also keeps part of the produce to preserve the heritage.
Dà Hóng Páo (大红袍) is an important Wuyi Oolong tea. Legend has it that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by a certain tea, and that emperor sent great red robes to
clothe the four bushes from which that tea originated. Three of these original bushes, growing on a rock on Mount Wuyi and reportedly dates back to the Song Dynasty, still survive today and are
Cuttings taken from the original plants have been used to produce similar grades of tea from genetically identical plants. Taste variations produced by processing, differences in the soil, and location of these later generation plants is used to grade the quality of various Da Hong Pao teas.
Due to its high quality, Da Hong Pao tea is usually reserved for honored guests in China.
Dahongpao has an intense reddish brown color. The leaves are compact. Once brewed, the liquor is a bright orange color. The aroma lingers long even after the seventh or eighth brew. The most traditional way to enjoy Dahongpao is using small “gongfu” tea cups, i.e. cups so small that the tea is finished in one small sip. These cups help discipline one to savor tea with patience, aka ‘gongfu’. It is believed that only drinking Dahongpao slowly and patiently will one fully appreciate its unique flavors. Dahongpao tastes warm and smooth with a mellow osmanthus flavor.
Yancha, tea of the Rock
The varieties under this subcategory generally give a shorter, but more robust impression both in the aroma and in the taste, as compared with other oolongs. This has to do with the plucks of the
particular local cultivars as treated in the production style popularly adapted there, with high fire and aggressively swift handling of the leaves.
The finer ones are called Yancha, i.e. teas of the big rocks, denoting origins that are in the heights rather than on the plains. The more difficult growing environment in the patches of land or steppes in the hills yield a lot more taste elements in the leaves, rather than just tannic and bitter “strength” of those from lower lands.
Amongst the Yancha, there are specially sought after ones that are from legendary cultivars, such as Da Hongpao (the Red Cloak), Tie Lohan (Iron Buddhist Monk, aka Iron Buddha), Bai Jiguan (White Crest of the Rooster), etc, etc. To certain people of status, access to such teas mean more status importance rather than the real gastronomic qualities.
Practical fine selections come from other cultivars. The most popular is a group by the name of Shuixian (Water Goddess, aka Chinese Sacred Lily). Yes, you are right, the same name as that traditional cheap restaurant tea. Others include Rougui, Meijian, and other cultivars from Anxi, Taiwan, and Eastern Fujian, such as various strands of wulongs and Da’bai.
Like post-fermented teas and brown style Anxi, Wuyi oolongs are dinner table friendly and popular connoisseur’s choice in gongfu tea making.