Since its initial discovery in ancient China, tea has been perfected and expanded all across the globe. Recognized as the second-most consumed beverage in the world (coming in behind water), tea has a range of flavors and aromas that can appeal to almost anyone’s senses.
Many popular oolong teas, which is just one of the several basic types of tea on the market, are produced in southeast China. The provinces of Fujian and Anhui are both known for harvesting high-quality teas that are prized and famous. One type of oolong, Da Hong Pao tea, is carefully cultivated in the Wuyi Mountains in the province of Fujian.
Oolong Tea Basics
What makes this type of tea unique is the partially oxidized leaves. Unlike other tea varieties that are left unoxidized or fully oxidized, oolong falls somewhere in the middle. Depending on the oolong variety, the oxidation percentage for the leaves can be anywhere from 8% to 85%.
Another oolong characteristic is the shape of the prepared leaves. While some tea leaves are straight like little needles, oolong tends to be rolled, twisted or curled tightly to form tiny balls. This is done primarily to enhance flavor.
Four Famous Wuyi Mountain Oolong Bush Varieties
Some of the most famous oolong teas, including Da Hong Pao, are harvested and processed in this mountainous region in China. There are three other varieties of oolong teas produced in this location, and they are collectively referred to as Si Da Ming Cong. The other three oolong teas are:
- Shui Jin Gui
- Tie Luo Han
- Bai Ji Guan
The Legend of Da Hong Pao Tea
Dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1279), the origins and the name, which means ‘big red robe,’ are from a legend.
As the story goes, there was a scholar who was away from home and fell ill in the days leading up to an important exam. Not knowing what else to do, he went to a monk who ended up brewing a tea to heal the scholar. A few days later, the monk’s concoction appeared to have worked and the man won first place in his exam.
The same monk later made this brew to cure an emperor who had become very sick. The tea healed the emperor and, in thanks, the monk was gifted a red robe. This sign of importance and gratitude was also placed around the tea bush that had grown the tea leaves. For this reason, the tea trees and tea produced from them were referred to as Da Hong Pao.
Harvest & Production
There are seven different steps to harvesting and producing this oolong variation. Although the leaves come from the Camellia sinensis shrub, the methods used to process the tea leaves differs from that of the other types of tea.
- Harvesting, which takes place during May and June, results in one bud with two or three leaves being plucked together.
- Next, the leaves are spread out in a single layer. With the help from the sun and wind, moisture in the leaves evaporates and they wither.
- The withered leaves are moved inside to help them cool off.
- The cooled leaves are then shaken and rolled. This is essential to the flavor of the tea when it is brewed.
- Once rolled, the leaves are stir-fried. This can take place either by hand or by machine. The temperature reaches anywhere from 284°F.-320°F. when processed by hand, and higher temperatures can be reached (428°F.-500°F.) when the leaves are stirred by the machine.
- Whether by hand or machine, the stir-fried leaves are kneaded, rolled, and twisted into shape. The end result will look similar to a knotted piece of rope.
- The final step involves baking the knotted leaves to finish the drying process.
Brewing Loose Leaves
Traditionally, this type of Chinese tea was prepared using a Yixing clay teapot. In addition to this purple clay teapot, which is needed for steeping the tea leaves, you will need a vessel to serve the tea, and cups to drink the tea out of.
Bring some water to a boil. For the best tasting results, it is suggested that you use spring or fresh water. While waiting for the water to boil, preheat the clay teapot, serving vessel, and tea cups with some hot water. When the pieces are heated, discard the water.
Place 2 g of tea leaves into the teapot for every 8 oz of boiling water that will be used. When the water starts to boil, fill the teapot with the boiling water and allow the leaves to steep for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on package instructions). Pour the tea directly into the serving vessel. Then, pour it into the cups, straining out the leaves, and then enjoy. Save the leaves as they can be used a few more times.
Appearance, Aroma, & Taste
The dark greenish-brown knotted tea leaves produce a cup of tea that is dark amber in color, with subsequent brews appearing lighter and taking on more yellowish tones. Known for having a woody smell with subtle hints of tobacco and hazelnut, the first brew with these tea leaves will have a strong woody and mineral taste. As the leaves are infused and more brews are made, however, the taste mellows out to a sweeter and fruitier flavor.
Caffeine & Nutrition
Typically, the caffeine content in oolong tea can range from 37 to 55 mg per serving. The caffeine content is hard to determine because brewing and processing methods can alter these levels. Oolong tea, such as Da Hong Pao tea, is low in nutritional value. One serving, 8 fl oz, contains zero calories, fats, carbs, and proteins.
Da Hong Pao Tea
Considered to be one of the most expensive teas on the market, Da Hong Pao is a delicacy and considered a tea lover’s dream. Harvested from plants that have been on Wuyi mountain for hundreds of years, this oolong variety is packed with flavor and aroma.
The strong tea leaves can be used for multiple brews, each having its own unique and distinct flavor. If you are a fan of oolong teas, this variety should definitely be on your list to try.