What is Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea?
Da Hong Pao (“Big Red Robe”) is one of the best-known varieties of Wuyi “Yan Cha” or “rock oolong” tea. As the name already tells, these ar native to Wuyi Mountains, Fujian Province, China. According to legend, it once happened in the days of the Ming Dynasty that the mother of a Chinese emperor recovered from a serious illness thanks to the enjoyment of a particular tea. Thereupon, the emperor had the five tea bushes, from which the tea had come, clad in in imperial red robes.
Da Hong Pao Motherbushes in Wuyishan
Well, there must be a true core to that story at least. As the four Da Hong Pao “mother bushes” remaining today have been in the limelight ever since. Back in the old days, the few hundred grams of the tea bushes’ annual yield were reserved exclusively for the imperial court. In more recent times, however, rather than serving consumption, the mother bushes have been subject to extended scientic studies.
One result of these studies was the realization that the 4 shrubs are not of the same tea plant variety. Instead, 2 of the 4 bushes each belong to the individual varieties “Qidan” and “Beidou”. Accordingly, there are TWO types of Authentic Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea. These are Qidan Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea and Bei Dou Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea. However, distinguishing the tea from both bush types is quite a challenge even for well-practiced tea sommeliers. Both leaves (dry as wet) and infusion show a similar visual appearance. And in terms of taste, the differences between both varieties consist in no more than finest nuances. Nevertheless, we felt a strong urge towards offering both varieties in their pure form at Siam Tea Shop.
Qidan Da Hong Pao Tea Bush
Spread of the Motherbushes’ First Generation Cutoffs
Towards the end of the 1980s, scientists finally managed to raise genetically identical tea plants from cutoffs of the mother bushes. Then they distributed specimen of both varieties of these “first generation cutoffs” among Wuyi tea farmers. Only this way, Da Hong Pao Oolong tea could become available to tea lovers across the world. Nevertheless, most teas on the western retailing market bearing the label “Da Hong Pao” will still be fakes. That is, to some degree… After all, authentic Da Hong Pao Oolong tea must meet the following two conditions:
- The tea leaves must come from direct descendants of the mother bushes (whether qidan or beidou)
- The tea bushes must grow within “zhengyan”, Wuyishan’s core area for the cultavation of authentic Wuyi rock teas
Our Beidou Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea
One of the tea grower families who received specimen of the first generation cutoffs from the Da Hong Pao mother bushes was the Chen family. Today, it is their daughter Cindy who continues the family’s tradition of cultivating and processing tea. And it is thanks to Cindy Chen, our producer partner in Wuyishan, that we can now enjoy authentic Da Hong Pao Oolong tea of both varieties at Siam Tea Shop!
In processing, Da Hong Pao Oolong tea can be roasted and oxidized to different degrees. Characteristic, however, are the medium roasting and degree of oxidation and the open rolling of the leaf as present here. The superior picking standard, excellent leaf quality and respectful manual processing of our Beidou Da Hong Pao Oolong tea become obvious at the sight of the wet tea leaves after infusion.
Taste and Appearance
Wuyi rock teas are generally characterized by a special mineral taste. This is due to the special, high in minerals soil of Wuyishan’s zhengyan area. To these add a characteristic roast/smoke note, coming from the manual roasting over charcoal fire, and a pronounced sweetness . The latter again embeds a number of complex fruity notes, the presence of which may vary considerably depending on picking standard, processing and preparation.
The dried tea leaves of our Beidou Da Hong Pao are of slender, elongated shape and dark reddish-brown to black color, pleasing with a soft nose of ripe fruit. This again finds reflection in the infusion’s fragrance and also dominates the liquor’s taste. At this, the fruity notes are well grounded, combining with the soft sweetness of dried fruit to impeccable harmony in the overall picture. The clear infusion color changes from golden yellow to amber to reddish brown, depending on infusion period.
Basically, there are two ways of preparing an oolong tea such as our Beidou Da Hong Pao. The first of these would be the explorative approach of preparing your tea through a series of multiple infusions, each of which with a short infusion period only. For this form of exploration of individual flavor nuances of an oolong tea stands the Chinese “Gong Fu Cha” or tea ceremony. This approach usually uses high dosages and brewing periods of less than a minute. Then, in western tea culture, tea drinkers tend to “combine” the enjoyment potential of a tea in one or two infusions. These usually have a comparatively low dosage and infuse up to 5 minutes per steep.
Now, there’s not always enough time for the ritual celebration of our tea. On the other hand, the second approach doesn’t live up to preparing an oolong tea. And this applies in particular to a rare and precious oolong tea such as our Beidou Da Hong Pao. For “home use”, we therefore suggest a mixed form of preparation, combining the best of both worlds.
Dosage: As a starting dosage we always recommend 200ml of water on 4 grams of tea leaves. This parameter can be adjusted for further exploration as well as according to individual preferences.
Water temperature: To infuse an oolong tea of higher oxidation degree, first heat the water to boiling level. Then allow it to cool down to about 85-90 ° C.
Infusion period: Initially, apply an infusion period of 2-3 minutes to the first steep of Beidou Da Hong Pao Oolong Tea. Then, for a second infusion, reduce the steeping time to 1-2 minutes only. Finally add brewing time again to further infusions (3/4/5 minutes). This way, our Qidan Da Hong Pao Oolong tea will produce a series of full value infusions … And surprise with always new taste profiles!
More about Wuyishan and Yancha Oolong Teas
There’s more information about Wuyishan, Wuyi teas and our Wuyi producer partner in our pertaining Siam Tea Blog articles