Unveiling the Origins of Oolong Tea

Unveiling the Origins of Oolong Tea

Paula Stocker

The Wuyi Mountains are considered the birthplace of oolong tea also called Wulong. This area has been producing oolongs since the end of the Ming Dynasty. While other regions produce oolong teas, the rocky terroir and charcoal roasting process produces a distinctive flavor not found in other teas. Also known as rock or cliff teas, the mineral composition of the soil contributes complexity to the teas grown in this region. There is a unique minerality that is enhanced by the processing and charcoal roasting.Charcoal Roasting

Da Hong Pao, also known as Big Red Robe, is undoubtedly the most prestigious and renowned Wuyi Rock Tea. There are two legends surrounding the origin of this tea cultivar. The first story narrates how tea was grown on steep rocks and how monks from a nearby temple trained monkeys to pluck tea leaves in spring while wearing red vests. As a tribute to this, the tea was named Da Hong Pao, which translates to Big Red Robe. The second story revolves around a student who fell ill on his way to participate in the imperial exam. He was offered accommodation by the monks at a temple in Wuyi, and they cured him using tea plucked from rocks near the temple. The student made a full recovery and was able to take the exam, eventually being chosen as number one by the emperor. In gratitude to the monks and the tea that had saved his life, the student took off his red robe and covered the tea tree on the rocks. This tea tree was then named Da Hong Pao, which has since become synonymous with quality and taste.

The six mother trees of Da Hong Pao have been growing in the rocks of Jiu Long Ke 九龙窠 of Wuyi for around 360 years. In order to protect the mother trees that are considered a national treasure, harvesting stopped in 2000.

There are different designations for Da Hong Pao depending upon where it was grown. Our Premium Da Hong Pao was grown within the Wuyi Shan National Park, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. It is illegal  to use pesticides within the park.       Da Hong Pao Mother tree

Shui Xian, another tea cultivar from Wuyi, was introduced from Jianyang County. This region was the center of Beiyuan Royal Tea Garden during the Song Dynasty, and it is believed that Shui Xian originated from this garden. According to a popular legend, a poor young farmer from Jianyang was resting in front of a rock cave while cutting firewood. Feeling tired and dizzy, he plucked some leaves from a nearby plant with white flowers and lovely green leaves, which instantly revitalized him. He took a branch of the plant with him, but it was buried by a collapsed earth wall during a storm. To his surprise, the branch soon germinated and grew into a plant. The young farmer shared the herb with his neighbors, who also grew stronger and smarter after consuming it. The plant, which they named Shui Xian, was bred and spread to many places, including Wuyi. The name Shui Xian is the local dialect pronunciation of Zhu-xian, which means the cave of the immortal. This legend might be an exaggerated way of describing the invention of the tea breeding grafting technology.

Rou Gui, the most fragrant Wuyi Rock Tea, is highly revered in the region. There is a saying in Wuyi that translates to No tea is more fragrant than Rou Gui, and no tea is mellower than Shui Xian. The flavor of Rou Gui is similar to that of cinnamon, with subtle differences. Ma Zhen Feng and Hui Yuan are the original locations of Rou Gui in Wuyi. This tea's fragrance and unique taste have made it a favorite among tea connoisseurs worldwide.

The category of Oolong teas is known for its remarkable diversity. The number of possible processing variations is so vast that it could take years to sample them all. Specialized research institutions have been established with the purpose of refining and developing new tea varieties, processes, and flavors. Despite all the available options, my heart remains with the Wuyi Mountains, where it all began. I encourage you to explore the range of distinctive teas from this region.

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