According to legend, Da Hong Pao (Dahongpao) tea dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1300-1600 AD) in China. Supposedly tea plucked from the Dahongpao mother bushes cured the sick mother of a Chinese emperor. The emperor was so happy that he sent giant red cloth robes to wrap the four bushes from which the tea was produced. The original bushes are still alive today, though recent laws from 2006 prevent plucking the mother bushes. Modern Dahongpao is produced from relatives of the originals, that were grown from cuttings from the mother plant.
Da Hong Pao – Terroir and Growing Region
Grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Northwestern Fujian Province, the original home to Da Hong Pao is a national park. Larger than Yellowstone, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site that was home to farmers and small communities that grew and produced tea in the region. They were “asked” to move out during the creation of the world heritage site and for the most part now live on the outskirts of the park and still care for the plants, pick, and produce the tea.
Long ago the region was an area of high volcanic activity. The result of erosion has been to produce steep cliffs with narrow low-lying areas which includes the 9 bend river — a favorite spot for taking tourists down the river in bamboo rafts. The rocks that make up the region though continue to erode and produce a unique blend of minerals that get taken up by the root systems of tea plants. It’s the combination of the cultivar, the climate of regular fog and mist, and minerals from eroding cliffs that contribute to the unique taste and mouth feel of Da Hong Pao.
The mother bushes themselves are found in 9 Dragon Canyon along a walking tour. End to end, it’s a bit over 3 miles up and down through the canyon where 25+ varieties of tea are grown anywhere the bushes can be fit and reached for plucking. Many of the bushes found here, in addition to the mother plants, are several hundred years old. They produce very high quality, but very low yield!
In addition to tea the area is home to about 5,000 animal species including many rare and unique species. Designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has resulted in rapid growth of Wuyi-shan. Many new hotels and shops have been built next to the park. China is working on building a new railway station so that tourists can get to the area much faster as the current railway station is about 45 minutes away. There’s also been an influx of sellers offering Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas and Lapsang Souchong, much of which is fake.
Da Hong Pao – Drinking
This open twist oolong is roughly 35-50% oxidized. Use 3 grams per 8oz of water and steep at 190°F. The first infusion should be steeped for 2-3 minutes while the second infused steep 3-5 minutes. Steep 6 grams of tea in a medium size Gaiwan for approximately 20-30 seconds and pour off into a small pitcher and serve. Infuse 6-8 times adding 5-10 seconds for each infusion.
This rock oolong is worth exploring and adding to your tea cabinet.