Today there are roughly 800 kinds and sub cultivars of Wuyi Rock Tea, but some are close to extension or super rare and locals only know about them. To name a few “The eyebrow of Laojun”, “The Lingua of Sparrow”, “The ignorant of Spring”, “Golden Keys”, “Palms of Buddha” or “White Daphne”, but more commonly know cultivars and by some grouped as “The Four Kongfu Masters” are:
“The lord of the martial artists” – Scarlet Robe aka Dahong Pao
“The impregnable fortress” – Iron Arhat aka Tieluo Han
“A golden rooster standing by one foot” – White Roosters Comb aka Baiji Guan
“Flying on the rocks and walking the cliffs” – Golden Water Tortoise aka Shuijin Gui
Where originates Scarlet Robe aka Dahong Pao and what’s behind the name?
When you walk through today’s Wuyi Mountains and particular follow the tourist signs, you might doubt the saying “All ways lead to Rome”, because here it’s could be said “All ways lead to Dahong Pao”. When you see the three original Dahong Pao bushes, you stand right in front of Jiurongke Rock and might wonder how those bushes in the middle of a steep rock wall can not only survive, but became world famous?
Which directly leads to the uniqueness of Dahong Pao, its superior quality is due to little sunshine, many rains and dews, as well as the springs dripping from the top of the rock.
Opposite of the Dahong Pao bushes, a basic bamboo hut turned into a small tea house, where you can enjoy a cup of precious leaves and let take over your imagination to follow a famous legend of Dahong Pao’s naming:
It is said that long time ago the governor of Chongan county was very ill and lots of medicine did not recover him even the least, when the monks of Tianxin Temple heard about and presented the governor with some of their tea. After a few times of drinking the tea, the governor recovered miraculously. Being grateful, he visited the temple to thank the tea tree which saved his life. After kowtowed respectfully, he climbed up the rock, took of his red official uniform to cover the trees to show his gratefulness. It is after that event that people called that tea tree as Scarlet Robe aka Dahong Pao.
However the real reason for its name is that the young leaves of the tea tree are shining in a kind of fuchsia color.
Where originates Iron Arhat aka Tieluo Han and what’s behind the name?
Actually Tieluo Han is one of the earliest known kinds of tea bushes in Wuyi Mountains, since Song Dynasty and it is a kind of arbor. Typically arbor qualities like rather high and flourished, with long and big leave, oily greenish on the face side of foliage and its mellow taste with special long lasting flavor as well as its rareness and preciousness. Tieluo Han is found at several rocks, cliffs and gullies.
The legend says that one day the 500 arhats were having a tour in Wuyi, while one of the arhat in charge of tea was so enchanted by the scenic site that he dropped a tea wig. After they left, a special tea tree was grew over the site and since then people called it the Iron Arhat.
Where originates White Rooster Comb aka Baiji Guan and what’s behind the name?
Appearing first during the Ming Dynasty, Baiji Guan is older than Dahong Pao. The origin and first implantation place is not clear, be it at Zhizhi Nunnery below the Hui Garden Rock and Huo Rock Mountain or inside the Temple of a Master called Wen, both areas show very similar Gem plasma.
The name comes obviously from its leaves, which not only shaped by sharp furs but colored from dark green to light green and then to light yellow above the lower tree top. This vivid contrast of colors between young and old leaves reminds to a roosters comb, where deep red tones fade to white rosy tones at its furs.
Where originates Golden Water Tortoise aka Shuijin Gui and what’s behind the name?
Most Wuyi Mountain visitors pass by an elegant rock, formed like a tortoise stretching its neck to sip from Nine-Bend River, when viewing upstream right at Niulan Pit area next to Tianxin Temple at the heart of Wuyi Scenic area.
To understand the connection between this particular rock and the tea name, imagine a heavy rain season, where water soaked rocks, sand and soil suddenly causes an edge of a tea garden on top of a cliff to collapse. The rain water washed the tea tree down to a sunken rock near the bottom of Niulan Pit. The next day when the owner of Orchard valley tea gardens found this tea tree right up the tortoise like rock bending over there under the golden sunshine in the morning, he up reared the tree, filled more soil and surrounded the base with blocks. Later the original owner of the lost tea tree found it growing there on top of the tortoise like rock in Orchard valley; they start to dispute about the ownership of this tree without a conclusion. So they suited the case to the officials and from 1919 to 1920 over one year lawsuit they spend together about one thousand Liang (1 Liang = 50g) of silver, which made the Golden Water Tortoise famous und the sun.
In the end it is easily to understand the importance of origin of a tea tree, because the amount of sun, the amount of rain and the contents of the soil of each peak, rock, cliff, pit, garden, valley or gully influences the taste of the tea and makes an individual cultivar and therefore a kind of tea.
Another huge difference in taste makes its harvest time and processing method.
When I visit my Wuyi friends during the last ten days of April, starting with Guyu around 20th April until end of May, the tea trees sprout and everyone is busy plucking the tea leaves, before the leaves becoming old. Stacks of fire for baking the fresh leaves under the widows of houses built in the hills are being seen at a distance, and then the whole county is full of fragrance of the tea. Basically Wuyi rock tea trees are growing in coves and rocky gullies, where the microclimates are different and some famous clumps or kinds of tea trees have different growing periods.
Lu Tingcan the Chongan county magistrate in Qing Dynasty wrote a book “Continuation of Tea Canon”, in 1717, in which he quoted from Wang Caotangs’ book “On Tea”:
Therefore Wuyi Rock tea differs from i.e. Qimen Hong, which is only baked or i.e. Longjing which is only fried, so the finished rock tea leaves are half blue by fried and half red by baked and can be considered as semi oxidized tea.
The main procedures of Wuyi Rock tea processing are:
About Plucking of Wuyi Rock tea
People in ancient times knew “No plucking if there are white fine hairs on the surface of the tea leaves and plucking until the dew disappeared.” The too old or the too tender leaves will never be plucked, generally only the third to fourth leaf will be plucked. To make sure the best quality of Wuyi Rock tea is harvested, the most appropriate time for plucking is 9am to 11am and from 2pm to 3 pm and it should be secured that the leaves are not damaged while being plucked, transported, detached and fried, as well as the length of the leaves should be even.
All these basic factors not only can influence the quality and quantity of the finished product, but also the tea bud germination and the vigorous growing next year. Another aspect is, same like other plants, tea trees depend mainly on their leaves and their roots for the nutrient they need during the growing process and of course the stems which have the function of transportation and storage play an indispensable role and this relationship can be damaged when over picking or to early plucking.
About Sunbathing of Wuyi Rock teas
There are two methods, one is evaporating in the sun on huge bamboo plates, which is the traditional way and the other is to withering by heating on huge carpets inside the workshop. The purpose is to let fresh leaves send forth part of water, promoting the drying inside the leaf. While sunbathing factors like sunlight intensity (heat radiation), wind velocity and humidity as well as the different size and freshness of the leaves need to be considered. The master continuously checks the progress to make the water peduncles and tea leaves evaporate evenly, thus attaining the essential quality to achieve the special flavor of Wuyi Rock tea.
About Swaying of Wuyi Rock tea
The swaying machine is a huge turn able bamboo (modern: metal) woven tube on “legs” and its function is to let green leaves knock together and rub to break cells in the rim of leaves to promote the oxygenation of the enzyme and change the condition for providing the oxygen to cells of leaves, let water and water-soluble material in the hard stem permeate through the conducting tissue and then the water will be evaporate from the surface of the leaves. This happens in a sauna like room, where traditionally charcoal fired pots stand between the tubes while the leaves “sweetening” in the rolling tubes, this way the taste and aroma of the tea will be saved in the leaf. The duration of swaying obliges the master, who monitors the progress by eyes, nose, hands and experience.
About Frying of Wuyi Rock tea
Traditionally the master uses a huge pan where he fries by a temperature between 220 and 280 degrees Celsius, relatively hot compared to Longjing frying at around 208 degrees Celsius. This procedure takes up to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the leaves.
About Rubbing and Initial Baking of Wuyi Rock tea
By rubbing is meant to rub the fried leaves into curled shape stripes quickly. The main purpose is not only to make the tea stripes tight and good looking, but to mingle the various substances existing in the cells of the leaves, thus attaining the improvement of the tea qualities, such as moderate taste and the aroma. Then put the rubbed and again a bit wet (rubbing pressure!) tea leaves into bamboo sieves, hat like shape above open charcoal fire aka Chi Mao Huo. The wet leaves have to be baked by high and low temperature alternately, so they must be moved very quickly on or off the heat and baked intensely but orderly. The main purpose beside fixing the curled shape is to drive away the water in the leaves in order to prevent further biochemical reactions and to prevent the multi phenol compound from oxidizing and further ensure permanent and long lasting aroma.
About Removing of useless material and final Baking of Wuyi Rock tea
After initial baking the tea stalks and useless unsatisfied materials will be picked out and the big particulates and the dusts will be cleared away from the initially baked tea leaves. And then the leaves will be baked again, during this process the master need to make sure that rougher tea leaves are baked enough, while fragile parts won’t be baked to strong. Traditionally this final baking is again done using charcoal and bamboo hat as well as a gentle temperature, but relatively longer time to develop its taste, fragrance and color. Charcoal baking promotes the mellow degree, to cure the aroma, to perfect the color and to make it easy to be preserved and capable to be made several times, like aged Dahong Pao.