Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea
1. What is Da Hong Pao?
Da Hong Pao oolong tea, produced in Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China, is a special and famous Chinese tea belonging to the oolong tea category. Known for its excellent quality, it is the most renowned variety of Wuyi rock tea. The tea has tightly twisted leaves in strip shape with a fresh, greenish-brown color in appearance, and when brewed, it produces a bright orange-yellow liquor with reddish-green on tea leaves edges. The most distinctive feature of Da Hong Pao is its rich orchid fragrance, which is high and long-lasting, with a prominent "rock rhyme" taste.
The Legend of Da Hong Pao
The legend dates back to 1385, during the 18th year of the Hongwu period of the Ming Dynasty A scholar named Ding Xian was on his way to capital( now Beijing) for the imperial national examination when he suddenly fell ill with severe abdominal pain near Wuyi Mountain. By chance, he met a monk from Tianxin Yongle Temple, who brewed tea from the leaves he carried and offered it to Ding Xian. The scholar's pain subsided immediately after drinking the tea. After scoring the top rank in the imperial national examination, Ding Xian returned to thank the monk and inquired about the origin of the tea. Upon learning the source, he took off his red robe and wrapped it around the tea bushes three times, giving the tea the name "Da Hong Pao," which means "Big Red Robe."
Ding Xian then filled a tin container with Da Hong Pao tea and brought it back to the capital(Beijing). Coincidentally, the Empress fell ill at that time, and despite the efforts of countless doctors, her condition did not improve. Ding Xian presented the tea to the Emperor as a gift, and after the Empress drank it, her health gradually recovered. Overjoyed, the Emperor awarded Ding Xian with a red robe and instructed him to personally return to the Nine Dragon Nest (Jiulongke) to drape the robe over the tea bushes as a sign of imperial favor. From then on, Da Hong Pao became an exclusive tribute tea reserved for the enjoyment of the royal family, and its reputation spread far and wide.
2. Da Hong Pao’s making process?
The production process of Da Hong Pao can be divided into three main stages: plucking, initial Maocha processing, and refining process.
Plucking process: Da Hong Pao is harvested normally twice a year, namely spring tea, , and autumn tea( but the high quality Da Hong Pao is normally only harvested in spring time). The plucking standard for fresh leaves is to pick new buds and leaves are mature, usually one bud with three or four leaves. The fresh leaves should not be too tender, as it would result in finished tea with low aroma and bitter taste, nor too old, as it would lead to a thin taste and a coarse aroma. Moreover, it is essential to avoid picking tea leaves during rainy days or when they are covered with dew.
Initial Maocha processing: This stage involves several steps, such as sun-withering, cooling(indoor), zuoqing(including two process, shaking tea leaves and cooling tea leaves, both are for tea oxidation), pan-firing(killing the enzyme), kneading, baking, then Maocha.
Refining process: Maocha, initial selecting( selecting leaves apart from stems & old leaves), sieving, re-sorting, wind-selecting, initial-roast, blending, second-roast and final-roast.
3. How is modern Da Hong Pao defined?
Da Hong Pao is generally defined in 4 ways:
The first type of Da Hong Pao refers to the mother tree Da Hong Pao, which is the mother tree Da Hong Pao on the stone wall of Jiulongke in Wuyi Mountain. Jiulongke is located within the Wuyi Mountain Scenic Area, and there are currently six mother trees. It is a must-see attraction for visitors to the Wuyi Mountain Scenic Area. The six mother trees includes 3 different cultivars, namely Qidan, Queshe, Beidou.
The second type of Da Hong Pao refers to the pure Da Hong Pao, which is formed by cutting branches from the mother tree and cultivating them through asexual reproduction. There are three varieties: Qidan, Queshe, and Beidou. They normally are sold as one cultivar only, and called such as, Qidan Da Hong Pao, or Queshe Da Hong Pao or Beidou Da Hong Pao.
The third type is blended Da Hong Pao, which is made by blending different cultivars of Wuyi Oolong teas from the Wuyi Mountain region based on the principle of complementing the advantages of different varieties. This type of tea has a fragrance and rock rhyme similar to the mother tree Da Hong Pao and is also known as commodity Da Hong Pao.
The fourth type of Da Hong Pao is the public brand of Wuyi Oolong tea, which has gained significant popularity. From 2006, the Wuyi Mountain Municipal Committee and Municipal Government decided to use Da Hong Pao as the public brand of Wuyi Oolong tea to promote it more effectively. As a public brand, Da Hong Pao is considered synonymous with Wuyi Oolong tea. This is one of the reasons why Wuyi Oolong tea is commonly called Da Hong Pao on the market.
4. What are the different roast levels for the Da Hong Pao?
In the production of Wuyi Oolong tea, Zuoqing and roasting processes are the most two crucial steps. They require a high level of technical skill and plays a vital role in forming the unique taste and aroma of Wuyi Oolong tea. Here we will explain in details the four main roast levels.
Light roast: The tea typically highlights in floral notes, with a high and uplifting aroma. This is often seen in lightly roasted cultivars like Huang Guan Yin. The liquor is usually pale yellow, and distinct "green leaves with red edges" can be seen in the infused tea leaves. This roast level is suitable for tea drinkers transitioning from green tea or floral tea to Wuyi Oolong tea.
Medium roast: The tea often displays a combination of floral and fruity notes, as seen in traditional high-aroma cultivars like Rou Gui. The liquor is mostly amber, and the "green leaves with red edges” can be faintly seen in infused leaves. This roast level is suitable for tea drinkers who have been enjoying Wuyi Oolong tea for some time.
Heavy roast: The tea typically presents fruity notes, as seen in traditional cultivars like Shui Xian. Prominent tea leaves veins can be seen easily; When brewed, the leaves expand, revealing many raised spots, colloquially called "toad skin" or "bubbling." The liquor is mostly golden yellow, suitable for tea drinkers who have drank Wuyi Oolong tea for several years.
High roast: The tea is often with high caramel aroma, as seen in cultivar like Rou Gui and Shui Xian. The "green leaves with red edges" are not easily seen in the infused tea leaves. The liquor is mostly deep yellow, suitable for tea drinkers from specific regions, such as Shantou city in China.
5. How to brew Da Hong Pao well in Chinese traditional way?
Tea quantity/brew: The typical weight of Da Hong Pao for one brew is 8g. You can also adjust the amount based on the size of your teaware.
Brewing vessels: Gaiwan(120ml capacity Gaiwan) or Yiying tea pot(200ml)
Begin by rinsing the teaware and teacups with boiling water (100°C or 212°F). Add the tea leaves to the teaware and pour boiling water over the leaves to rinse them once.
It is essential to brew Da Hong Pao with boiling water (100°C or 212°F) to fully stimulate and release its enchanting aroma. Pour the water in a circular motion along the edge of the Gaiwan, ensuring each tea leaf comes into contact with the water, fully activating the tea's delightful flavor and releasing its natural aroma. Continue pouring until the teaware is full, then cover it with the lid. When pouring water, hold the kettle high to allow the tea's aroma to unfurl rapidly. Then, scrape away any tea foam on the surface of the teaware. After steeping for 10 seconds, pour out the tea liquid for the first infusion.
The second steeping should last for about 5-10 seconds, and each subsequent steeping can be extended by 5-10 seconds, or adjusted according to personal preference. High-quality Da Hong Pao can be re-infused more than 8 times, with the aftertaste still being evident. With each infusion, the tea liquid becomes sweeter and more transparent. The principle of adjusting steeping time for other Wuyi Oolong teas is essentially the same.
6. What does Da Hong Pao taste like?
Da Hong Pao has a rich and robust taste, offering a full-bodied and mellow flavor, strong rock rhyme, and a prominent floral fragrance, all-wrapped with warm and smooth texture. The tea liquid is soft, delicate, smooth, leaving a long-lasting aftertaste sweetness. In terms of aroma, Da Hong Pao is divided into floral, fruity, and woody notes; When sipped, the tea liquid is thick and smooth, full of charm, with a sweet aftertaste that stimulates saliva production while showcasing its notable mineral essence, also known as "rock rhyme."
7. How to judge if a Da Hong Pao is a good tea?
Several aspects should be considered when evaluating the Da Hong Pao: appearance, liquor color, aroma, taste, infusion times, and infused tea leaves. But aroma and taste are the most important two points to judge.
Aroma: A refreshing aroma is preferred. After inhaling, exhale deeply through the nose; if you can detect a lingering fragrance, it is considered high-quality. For heavy-roasted teas, fruit and cream aroma are superior. For lightly-roasted teas, floral and peach aroma are superior.
Taste: A smooth, refreshing & sweet taste is ideal, while bitterness, astringency, numbness, or sourness are undesirable. Tea liquid without texture or a thin taste is considered low-quality. The degree of bitterness and astringency often determines the quality of Da Hong Pao. Regarding infusion times, usually around eight infusions are expected, and more than eight is even better. Good tea should have a lingering fragrance after seven or eight infusions and a remaining taste after nine or ten infusions.
Appearance: The appearance and color of the dry tea leaves can also be a reference for quality identification. It should have a uniform shape, tightly rolled and sturdy strip leaves, slightly twisted with amber color. Aged Da Hong Pao appears grayish-brown. Da Hong Pao tea leaves with incomplete or broken leaves is regarded to be lower quality. Additionally, the infused tea leaves can be a reference for tea quality; it should be soft, shiny, and uniform, with a distinct red edge.
High-quality Da Hong Pao should have no apparent bitterness, a full texture (a sticky feeling in the mouth, with thickness), smoothness, a noticeable sweet aftertaste, and a long-lasting finish.
8. Why is Da Hong Pao so expensive?
First, the expense can be attributed to the growing area factors, often referred to as "mountain factors." The unique geographical environment of Wuyi Mountain plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the tea, especially in highly regarded tea fields, such as the "Three Pits and Two Streams" or other nearby special areas. Tea produced in these regions is scarce, and limited production naturally leads to higher prices.
Second, the cost is driven by the craftsmanship. The traditional hand-making process of Da Hong Pao involves 13 intricate steps. To ensure the quality of high-grade tea, most of these steps are meticulously performed by hand. As labor costs rise, so do the prices of tea.
Third, the expense is influenced by cultivar factors. Some specific tea cultivars are highly sought after in the market due to their popularity, such as premium-blend Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, and Laocong Shui Xian (old Shui Xian tea trees), which are flagship teas from Wuyi Mountain. As their popularity in the market grows, their prices correspondingly increase.
9. What is the so-called “Yan Gu Hua Xiang”(岩骨花香) in many Chinese official text tea books for Da Hong Pao?
"Yan Gu Hua Xiang," or literally translated as "rocky bone and floral fragrance," is a characteristic flavor of Da Hong Pao oolong tea, which refers to the unique combination of the tea's distinct rocky mineral taste (rocky bone) and floral aroma. The origin of this unique flavor lies in the special environment where Da Hong Pao oolong tea grows – Wuyi Mountain. The soil in the Wuyi Mountain region is rich in minerals, providing the tea plants with unique nutrients, which in turn, endows the tea with this distinctive flavor profile.
"Rocky bone" refers to the rocky and mineral taste contained in the tea leaves. The rock layers of Wuyi Mountain are mainly composed of granite, which is rich in minerals and provides ample nourishment for the tea plants. When Da Hong Pao tea is brewed, it exudes a unique rocky taste, which is a significant feature distinguishing it from other teas. Besides, it is also called as “ Rock Rhyme(岩韵)”.
"Floral fragrance" refers to the floral aroma that Da Hong Pao oolong tea emits during the brewing process. This floral fragrance may include various types of floral aroma, such as orchid, rose etc. The floral aroma and the rocky bone taste blend together, forming the unique "rocky bone and floral fragrance" flavor of Da Hong Pao oolong tea.
In summary, "rocky bone and floral fragrance" is a distinctive flavor characteristic of Da Hong Pao oolong tea, which originates from the special geographical environment of Wuyi Mountain. This unique feature sets this tea apart from other teas in terms of taste and aroma.
10. What other cultivars are commonly used in Wuyi Oolong tea?
There are numerous tea cultivars in Wuyi Mountain Oolong tea, with over a hundred different varieties. Among the more famous cultivars are Qi Dan, Bei Dou, hui Xian, Rou Gui, Bai Ji Guan, Tie Luo Han, Jin Guan Yin, Huang Guan Yin, Ban Tian Yao, Qi Lan, Mei Zhan, Jin Mu Dan, Fo Shou, Rui Xiang, Dan Gui, Shi Ru, Huang Mei Gui, Que She, etc. Each of these tea cultivars has its own unique characteristics, producing tea leaves with distinct flavors, aromas, and mouthfeels. This variety contributes to the diverse and unique styles of Wuyi Oolong tea.
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