Different locations and diverse tea tree types produce different qualities having unique tastes. Oolong tea is generally classified as:
According to the location: Fujian Oolong (North Fujian Oolong and South Fujian Oolong), Guangdong Oolong and Taiwan Oolong.
According to the shape: Bar, hemisphere and granular Oolong. Bar Oolong is mainly produced in north Fujian and Guangdong; The other two kinds are produced in south Fujian and Taiwan.
According to quality: Light fragrance and rich fragrance, the former taking most of the market share.
North Fujian Oolong Tea
North Fujian Oolong is more fermented. It mainly grows at Mount Wuyi in north Fujian. There is a small yield from Jianou, Jianyang, Nanping, Shuiji-three crops per year. The picking and processing start from later April.
It has 2 sub-categories, Wuyi Yan Cha and North Fujian Daffodil, the former being more popular.
1, Wuyi Yan Cha
Mild in taste and light in flavor, Wuyi Yan Cha is the earliest type of Oolong tea. Its half-fermented processing was invented by villagers in Mountain Wuyi during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.
Yan Cha, Charm of Rock
Yan means rock in Chinese. Wuyi Yan Cha gives off a unique fragrance of “flowers growing on the rocks”
The tea grows in and is enriched by the rocks. Mountain Wuyi is situated in the northern part of Wuyi Cordillera, facing southwest, covering 70 sq.km. It has 36 peaks and 99 giant rocks, with meandering streams. Surrounded by the other mountains but not connected, Mountain Wuyi has the right climate, temperature, rainfall and soil for tea growth. In 1999, UNESCO enlisted Mount Wuyi in The Directory of World Natural and Cultural Heritage.
The tea farmers plant tea trees between rocks and stones. This gives it the name Yan Cha. Presently there are about 1,000 types of tea trees.
The fragrance of the tea trees mingles with the clean mountain air. Wuyi Yan Cha absorbs both, and the tea gives off its “charm” of “freshness, fragrance, sweetness and vividness”.
The enduring fragrance is a mixture of green tea and black tea – light and rich-with added freshness of the bright yellow tea liquid, pure and clear. Drink it, to experience its sweetness and the enjoyable aftertaste. Appreciate the visual treat of the “green leaf red edge”.
The processing technique follows: fry --- knead ---refry---re-knead ---dry ---re-dry, unique to Wuyi Yan Cha.
Naming of Wuyi Yan Cha
Wuyi Yan Cha are named after tea trees such as Cinnamon from cinnamon trees. To classify as a type, such as the Daffodil Oolong, Buddha Hand, etc. there is a requirement of a minimum production. Tea trees giving small yields are called Famous Bush or Single Bush.
Famous Bushes are considered the “King of Yan Cha”. The small output and good quality make the Famous Bushes precious. They are given special names according to the tree shape or their growth environment. During the region of Xianfeng (Qing Dynasty), the 4 Famous Bushes chosen were named Dahongpao, Baijiguan, Tieluohan, and Shuijigui.
Da Hong Pao, a premier Oolong tea, is the most famous among Wuyi Famous Bushes. The original plants (mother plants) grow at Jiulongchao, amid the steep cliffs of Mount Wuyi, nurtured by the various mountain springs. The organic ingredients in the water and the soil make an ideal environment for Dahongpao.
The mother plants are invaluable treasures. Today, there are only 6 Dahongpao trees in Jiulongchao. For hundreds of years, they have been giving only small yields. In the 1980s, the local tea research center successfully planted Dahongpao in other areas of Wuyi having the similar environment. In 2006, the local government issued laws to protect the mother plants, including banning cropping and closely monitoring the environment, to prolong the lifespan of the mother plants.
Features of Dahongpao
Carefully picked and processed, each leaf is compact, bright green edged with red. The tea liquid is bright yellow. The most outstanding features are its strong fragrance of orchids and the sweet “Charm of rock” aftertaste. Dahongpao endures repeated infusions (term henceforth used for brewing leaves). In 1988, the first Wuyi Famous Bushes Evaluation Conference was held, during which Dahongpao was infused with water 9 times without losing its taste. (other Famous Bushes are tasteless after 7th infusion.
Tieluohan is the earliest Famous Bushes among Wuyi Yan Cha, growing in the Ghost Cave of Yanhuiyan in Mount Wuyi. Surrounded by steep cliffs on each side, a stream runs through this area. In recent years, small yields turn up in the market. It is said that Tieluohan (literally iron arhat) was first discovered by a strong, dark-skinned arhat (monk) of Huiyuan Temple, and hence the name.
Features of Tieluohan
The compact leaf is bright green and brown, with a flowery fragrance. The tea liquid is golden, with a rich taste and sweet aftertaste. The brewed leaves are soft and semi-transparent with red edges.
Baijiguan (literally “white crest”) was discovered earlier than Dahongpao, in the period of the Ming Dynasty, in the outer Ghost Cave of the Fire Peak of Huiyuanyan (the hill at the side of Wengong Temple behind Wuyi Palace). The soft, thin, light green and white new leaves contrast with the bright and rich green of ripe leaves. The ripe leaves are curled and hairy, with a white crest which gives its name.
Features of Baijiguan
Among all the Wuyi tea trees, Baijiguan has the most unique shape. The dried tea leaves are lighter in color but strong with its unique fragrance and Yan charm. The tea liquid is a vivid orange, rich in taste and sweet aftertaste. The brewed leaves are thick and soft.