Oolong "Wu Yi Yan Cha" or "Wuyi Yancha / Rock Tea / Cliff Tea" (from China Tea Book)

Wuyi Rock Tea is one of the famous historical teas in China, produced in Wuyishan City, Fujian Province. Wuyishan City is located in the northern part of Fujian, between 27°28' to 28°05' north latitude and 117°37' to 119°19' east longitude. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, it forms a basin slightly open to the south. The Wuyi Mountain Range stretches across the northwest boundary, with its main peak, Huanggang Mountain, reaching an altitude of 2158 meters, making it the highest peak in the southeastern mainland. The main river is Chongyang Creek, situated in the subtropical maritime monsoon climate zone of Fujian, in the central subtropical cool area, with an average annual temperature of 17.9°C, annual precipitation of 1906 millimeters, and a frost-free period of 272 days.

Wuyishan is located 10 kilometers south of Wuyishan City in Fujian Province. It is a branch of the Wuyi Mountain Range, which separates Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. It is a historically famous mountain, known as the "most beautiful in the southeast." Since ancient times, it has been a tourist destination. In the winter of 1962, Guo Moruo wrote a poem during his visit to Wuyishan:

"The winding stream surrounds Wuyi Mountain, The first song of camphor was sung by Zhu Xi, The secluded orchids grow in the valley, exuding fragrance along the path, Bamboo grows densely on the mountains, lining the creeks. The mysterious roads wind and twist, as if speaking in riddles, Cliffs and valleys compete for the appearance of immortals, Clear waves carry light boats like feathers, Unable to write poetry, yet able to compose."

Wuyishan is renowned both at home and abroad not only for its beautiful scenery but also for its abundant production of Wuyi Rock Tea. "Wuyi is not only famous for its natural beauty but also for its peculiar tea production." With interconnected peaks, valleys, and winding streams, it truly possesses the beauty of "green water and red mountains." The mild climate, with warm winters and cool summers, an average temperature of 18°C to 18.5°C, abundant rainfall of about 2000 millimeters per year, an average relative humidity of about 80%, and short sunshine hours, provides an ideal environment for growing tea. The unique environmental conditions for tea cultivation and abundant tea tree varieties contribute to the excellent quality of Wuyi Rock Tea.

As early as the Tang Dynasty, Xu Yin wrote in a poem: "Wuyi's warm spring and early full moon, picking new buds to present to the earth's immortals, flying magpies imprint fragrant wax cakes, crying monkeys run through the magnolia boat, golden troughs and mills grind fragrant incense, ice bowls lightly contain green smoke, the distribution of deep favors knows the most extraordinary, the late bell is suitable for boiling water from the northern mountain springs." It can be seen that as early as the Tang Dynasty, tea cultivation was already present in Wuyishan and was regarded as a precious gift. During the Ming Dynasty, it was listed as a royal tribute.

In the sixth year of the Yuan Dynasty's Dade reign (1302), the Beiju was established, and an imperial tea garden was set up by the Jiuku Stream to specifically handle the collection and production of tribute tea.

Starting from the Tang Dynasty's production of steamed green cake tea in Wuyi, until the end of the Ming Dynasty when tribute tea was abolished, around the end of the Ming and early Qing dynasties, Wuyishan accumulated the essence of tea-making experience from previous generations and created Wuyi Rock Tea. Since then, the production process of oolong tea has officially emerged. Xu Dun described Wuyi Rock Tea in "The Tea Examination": "Several hundred thousand catties are produced annually, transported by water and land, and sold to all corners of the country, making Wuyi famous throughout the country."

When Chinese tea was introduced to Europe, Wuyi Rock Tea led the way. According to William H. Ukers' "All About Tea," in 1607, the Dutch East India Company first transported tea from Macao to Europe. Initially, it was Japanese green tea, but soon it was changed to Chinese Wuyi tea, and since then, Wuyi Rock Tea has become popular overseas. Upper-class individuals in countries like England and the Netherlands regarded drinking Wuyi Rock Tea as a noble etiquette at banquets.

Wuyi Rock Tea is deeply appreciated not only for its beautiful scenery but also for its excellent quality. The production of high-quality tea is attributed to the unique ecological environment, abundant tea tree variety resources, and unique and exquisite production techniques.

Wuyishan's cliffs and valleys provide an excellent natural environment for tea cultivation. The soil is well-developed, deep, loose, and fertile. The superior natural environment and soil conditions provide favorable conditions for the excellent quality of rock tea.

Wuyishan covers an area of ​​60 square kilometers, with 36 peaks, 99 rocks, and tea grows on every rock. Oolong tea produced in Wuyishan is commonly referred to as Wuyi Rock Tea. However, due to different varieties, quality differences, and the timing of harvesting and processing, the classification of rock tea has been very strict throughout the generations, with hundreds of varieties and names being particularly prominent.

The famous production areas of Wuyi Rock Tea are the three pits (Huiyuan Pit, Niulan Pit, and Dakeng) and the two streams (Liuxiang Stream and Wuyuan Stream) of Wuyishan. After being moved from the south to the north of the mountain, these areas have been the best producing areas for rock tea for over 300 years and continue to be so today. Due to differences in tea production locations, traditional classifications include Zhengyan Tea, Banyan Tea, and Zhoucha Tea. Zhengyan Tea refers to tea produced in the central area of Wuyi Rock, with its quality being high in fragrance and taste, distinctly showcasing the rocky aroma. Banyan Tea refers to tea produced in the peripheral area of Wuyi Rock, with its rocky aroma slightly inferior to Zhengyan Tea. Zhoucha Tea refers to tea produced on the banks of Chongxi, Jiuku, and Huangbai streams, adjacent to the two banks of Wuyi Rock, with its quality being slightly lower.

In the Qing Dynasty, Wang Zi, the county magistrate of Chongan County, wrote in "Tea Talk": "Within 120 li of Wuyishan, all areas are suitable for tea cultivation, with two types of tea: rock tea and zhoucha, with the former being the best quality, and the latter being of lower quality." "The tea from the northern mountain is superior, while that from the southern mountain is inferior." (From "Continuation of Tea Classics" by Lu Tingcan) It can be seen that since ancient times, the origin of rock tea has been carefully considered.

Wuyishan is a natural botanical garden with extremely rich tea tree variety resources. In Wuyi, there is asexual group variety cabbage tea, namely Wuyi species.

The botanical characteristics of Wuyi species vary greatly, containing numerous excellent germplasms, earning it the title of "kingdom of tea tree varieties." The rich and colorful treasury of tea tree germplasms is the material basis for the unique quality of Wuyi Rock Tea.

The tea area of Wuyi cherishes this natural treasure greatly. From the original sexual group of Wuyi cabbage tea, excellent single plants have been selected through repeated selection, separate processing, quality identification, and breeding. Outstanding single plants are then evaluated and named. Ordinary named single plants are further divided into "four major named single plants." This is a unique breeding technique of Wuyi. The names and colors of Wuyi Rock Tea may change with the times, but there are still certain norms for naming finished tea, based on origin, variety, and quality. Traditionally, it is divided into four categories: peculiar varieties, single plant peculiar varieties, named plant peculiar varieties, and named varieties. Peculiar varieties are the cabbage tea of Zhengyan, with quality above the general standard (also known as Zhengyan peculiar varieties). Peculiar varieties are divided into single plant peculiar varieties and named plant peculiar varieties (referred to as single plants and named plants). Single plant peculiar varieties are several excellent clumps selected from cabbage tea, processed separately, with quality superior to peculiar varieties. Each single plant peculiar variety is crowned with various flower names, named according to the tea tree's growth environment (such as being out of sight), tea tree morphology (such as drunken crabapple), tea tree leaf shape (such as melon seed gold), tea tree leaf color (such as sun), tea tree sprouting early or late (such as welcoming spring willow), fragrance type (such as night-blooming jasmine), and so on. There are countless varieties, each more dazzling than the last. The most famous among the named plant peculiar varieties are Dahongpao, Baijiguan, Tieliuhuan, and Shuijingui. There are also ordinary named plant peculiar varieties such as melon seed gold, golden key, and half-day sky. Wuyi Rock Tea is world-famous and inseparable from these named plant peculiar varieties. Named varieties are ordinary cabbage teas taken from half-rock tea and zhoucha, possessing only the general standards of rock tea.

Since the 1950s, after several reforms and changes, Wuyi Rock Tea has been divided into several grades, with various tea names such as Shuixian and peculiar varieties divided into special grades from first to fourth, along with coarse tea, fine tea, and tea stems.

The manufacturing method of Wuyi Rock Tea is unique and requires meticulous craftsmanship, combining the principles and methods of both red and green tea production. During the production process, suitable tea tree varieties are carefully selected, strict picking standards are applied, and exquisite baking techniques are employed.

The day of harvesting, commonly known as "opening the mountain," is considered a sacred event for the collection and processing of rock tea.

The picking of rock tea is different from other types of tea. It involves mastering the technique of "opening the middle and opening the meter." When the new shoots grow and form buds, three to four leaves are picked, roughly equivalent to the first flat extension, with the leaf area smaller than the second leaf but accounting for about two-thirds. Spring tea is generally picked after Guyu and before the beginning of Xia, summer tea before Xiazhi, and autumn tea after Lichun. The fresh leaves should be fresh and intact. There are special requirements for picking high-quality varieties and named plant peculiar varieties: no picking on rainy days, no picking with dew, and not picking when the sun is strong.

The best time for picking is from 9 to 11 in the morning, and secondarily from 14 to 17 in the afternoon. Fresh leaves from named plant peculiar varieties and single plants are processed separately to ensure they become perfect finished products.

The traditional craftsmanship involved is complex: fresh leaves, withering (sunlight, warming), cooling, shaking, and hand-making, frying, initial rolling, re-frying (roasting), re-rolling, water baking, winnowing, cooling, picking, firing, shaping, stewing, and finishing. The rock tea baking process can be summarized into five parts through simplification: withering, making green, fixing, rolling, and baking.

The withering process of rock tea, also known as sunning green, is characterized by the main process of "after picking the tea, spreading it evenly in bamboo baskets, and placing it in the sun for sunning green" (from "Tea Talk" by Wang Caotang). Sunning green is done using bamboo water sieves placed outdoors with slanting sunlight, ensuring the leaves lose water evenly. After the green gas disappears, the leaves become slightly soft, the top two leaves droop, and the gloss on the leaf surface disappears to a moderate degree. The duration of sunning green depends on the variety and the strength of the sunlight. The leaves are then moved indoors to cool, and when the heat dissipates and the withered leaves "return to life," they can be processed into green tea. In case of rainy days, the method of warming withering can be used.

The making of green tea is very meticulous, involving alternation between shaking and hand-making.

The tea green that has been sunned is placed in a water sieve or shaking machine, continuously rotated and flipped, causing the leaf edges to rub against each other. The number of shakes ranges from few to many, the force from light to heavy, and the interval from short to long, repeatedly 5 to 7 times, with light hand-making added for incomplete shaking later. The whole process takes 8 to 12 hours.

Due to differences in tea tree varieties, climate, and the degree of withering, the number and intensity of shakes differ as well, namely "observing green and making green," "light withering and heavy shaking," and "heavy withering and light shaking."

"When its green color gradually recedes, then further frying is applied. The aroma becomes more pronounced during frying, and if delayed, it will be insufficient, which is undesirable." This refers to the need for further frying after the leaves have reached an appropriate level of greenness. The processing of Wuyi Rock Tea involves three steps: frying, kneading, and baking, which are carried out alternately in several stages. The unique feature of Wuyi Rock Tea processing is the simultaneous application of frying and baking. After the first frying and kneading, the temperature of the pan is maintained at 240°C - 260°C for about 2 minutes, followed by 20 hand kneads while hot, shaking loose, then another 20 kneads. This is followed by a second frying and kneading process. The temperature of the second frying is maintained at 200°C - 240°C, and it is steamed for about half a minute before being removed from the pan. After that, it is kneaded again for about 1 minute.

The baking process of Wuyi Rock Tea is characterized by high-temperature water baking followed by slow roasting over low heat, resulting in a unique fire effect. After the initial frying and kneading, it undergoes the first baking, known as the "water baking," at a temperature of 100°C - 110°C for 10 to 15 minutes until about 70% done. The broken particles are sieved out, and the yellow pieces are sifted out, then spread out to cool, commonly known as "cooling." The stems and yellow pieces are picked out. Then, it undergoes the second baking, a low-temperature slow roasting at 75°C - 85°C for 1 to 2 hours until completely dry, followed by a final round of baking while still hot, also known as stewing, for storage.

Wuyi Rock Tea varieties are classified into the following series: Wuyi Rock Tea made from selected excellent tea trees and processed separately is called "single bush," which has superior quality compared to the odd variety. If the single bush is of exceptional quality, it is called "famous bush," such as "Da Hong Pao," "Tie Luo Han," "Bai Ji Guan," and "Shui Jin Gui," known as the four famous bushes.

Tea made from cabbage tea or other varieties is called "Wuyi odd variety." Wuyi odd varieties have a tight and uniform appearance, with a dark greenish-brown color and a slightly brownish hue. They have a natural floral fragrance, subtle and restrained, with a rich and smooth taste, refreshing sweetness, and a prominent throat feel. The soup color is orange-yellow and clear, with uneven leaf bottoms, suitable for long-term storage. According to tests, the total extractable matter in Wuyi cinnamon tea is 38.91%, total polyphenols 23.41%, total amino acids 4.93%, total caffeine 3.22%, total catechins 144.46 mg/g, soluble sugar 1.61%, and water-soluble pectin 2.37%.

Tea made from Narcissus variety is called "Wuyi Narcissus." Wuyi Narcissus has a plump appearance, greenish-brown with a precious hue, and some leaves have sand-like grains on the back. The main veins at the base of the leaves are wide and flat. It has a strong and rich fragrance with a unique "orchid fragrance." The taste is rich, mellow, and thick, with a sweet and refreshing mouthfeel. The soup is rich and dark orange-yellow or golden-yellow. It can withstand repeated steeping, with soft and shiny leaf bottoms and bright red dots on the leaf edge. According to tests, the total extractable matter in Wuyi Narcissus tea is 38.62%, total polyphenols 20.10%, total amino acids 1.74%, total caffeine 4.15%, total catechins 118.84 mg/g, soluble sugar 3.66%, and water-soluble pectin 2.65%.

Wuyi Cinnamon was bred and promoted in the 1980s, known for its intense and long-lasting fragrance reminiscent of cinnamon. Wuyi Cinnamon has a tight structure, a dark brownish-green color, a sharp and pungent aroma with a distinct cinnamon scent, a fresh and smooth taste, a clear orange-yellow soup color, and a bright yellow leaf bottom with vivid red dots. According to tests, the total extractable matter in Wuyi Cinnamon tea is 38.91%, total polyphenols 23.22%, total amino acids 1.68%, total caffeine 4.65%, total catechins 124.22 mg/g, soluble sugar 3.38%, and water-soluble pectin 3.71%.

In summary, Wuyi Rock Tea emphasizes the "rock flavor." The aroma is rich with the fragrance of orchids, sharp yet long-lasting, clear yet distant. The taste is rich, smooth, and sweet, with a fresh and smooth aftertaste, earning it the reputation of "light as cream, fragrant as orchids," known as "having the essence of rocks and the fragrance of flowers." The tea strips are strong and uniform, with a greenish-brown luster resembling "precious light." The leaf surface has sand-like white spots, commonly known as "toad back." After brewing, the leaf bottom has a "green leaf red border," with three parts red and seven parts green.

The brewing of Wuyi Rock Tea is unique. "The cup is as small as a walnut, and the pot is as small as a bergamot. Each pour is not more than one or two. It is not easy to drink when it touches the lips. First, smell its aroma, then taste its flavor, chew it slowly and feel its texture." The fragrance only becomes evident on the second brew. The aroma of the tea soup is inhaled from the mouth, exhaled through the nostrils, and repeated three times, known as the "three breaths," to identify the superior aroma of Wuyi Rock Tea. Moreover, the best teas will have "lingering fragrance after seven brews."

Since its inception, Wuyi Rock Tea has undergone more than 300 years of initial development, decline, and resurgence. By the late 1940s, there were only sporadic aged tea gardens covering over 1,000 acres. After the 1950s, tea gardens gradually expanded to 6,000 acres, and state-owned tea factories and tea research institutes were established, promoting the development of Wuyi Rock Tea. Since 1985, it has won the title of one of the top ten famous teas in China five times. In 1989, it won the Excellent Product Award from the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1991, it won the Spark Program Expo Award, and in 1992 and 1995, it won the gold medal at the first and second Agricultural Expos. Wuyi Rock Tea is a traditional export product, exported to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, etc. Wuyi Rock Tea was listed as a geographical indication protection in 2002, and standards were formulated the same year. In 2006, the national standard GB/T 18745-2006 for geographical indication product Wuyi Rock Tea was formulated and implemented.


(Source: China Tea Book. Author: Guo Yaling, Lin Xinjiong )

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