About the Kind of North Fujian Oolongs
From olden times this tea is gathered in Wuyi mountains. The age of local cultivar «Iron Arhat» has been known for 1700 years. While «Big Red Robe» (Da Hong Pao) dates back around 360 years. This area is considered to be the place of origin for semi-fermented oolong tea. Its processing secrets and roasting traditions initially spread to South of Fujian and later to Guangdong and Taiwan.
There is a story about the origin of the name «Da Hong Pao». Once a student in a great hurry for his exams was crossing Wuyi mountains. But on his way he caught a serious cold and could not go any further. The traveler knocked on the door of the monk’s hut to ask shelter for the night. The monk realizing that student was in fever decided to help. Before the student fell asleep the monk brewed him a cup of fragrant local tea, which was considered to have healing power. The guest felt better next morning and after several days of drinking the tea has fully recovered. He wished goodbye to the monk and swiftly left for the capital to pass the emperor’s exam. Upon completion of the test he became an official and granted a red robe by the Emperor. But former student understood that owes his success to the monk with his marvelous tea. Therefore soon he returned to the place in the mountains were the monk lived and offered his red robe as a sign of gratitude. The monk however refused the gift with a remark that he doesn’t need such an outfit. So the student covered the tea bush with his robe. And that’s why the tea from that bush was named — «Big Red Robe».
At the first sight all oolongs from Wuyi look pretty much the same, but actually they differ significantly! Leaves are gathered from different plants, their roasting methods vary and resulting teas diverge in appearance, odor and flavor. Teas from Wuyi Shan are harvested only in springtime, in May when leaves, rich of nutrients and essential oils, become large and resilient. Rock tea is appropriate for aging. In China it is claimed that similar to pu-er in time it becomes even more complete, balanced and fragrant. Roasting (or to be more precise — baking) of the tea takes several weeks if not months and constitutes the main stage of processing thereof. The quality of the tea depends on the skill of the technologist: whether it turns out to be fragrant and tasty or dull and unsavory. Each type has its own defining flavor, while nuances of roasting are kept in strict secrecy by tea makers.
North Fujian oolong production technology:
They are so old that their braches are covered with moss and fungi. Their age counts to 360 years. Tea is no more gathered from them.
According to the Chinese farming calendar during solar terms of «grain rain» (Gǔyǔ, 谷雨) and «beginning of summer» (Lìxià, 立夏).
The tea is produced only once per year — in spring. It uses for top leaves. Buds in such tips are undesirable.
The tea is rested under the sunlight and indoors afterwards. It is left to lie for several hours so that excessive moisture could evaporate from the leaves.
On bamboo trays the tea is tossed hard to break edges of the leaf. Tossing is done in several stages.
Tea leaf brakes completely, it bleeds essential oils (making the tea even more fragrant) and sap (entailing additional fermentation).
The basket with the tea is placed above. This process at intervals is repeated for several times within a couple of months.
Between baking sessions the tea is stored in tin canisters. In this particular time the unique flavor and aroma are formed.
When aroma is formed and settled, the tea is packed into boxes. It may be either packaged at the factory or immediately before sale.
Special Aspects of Brewing North Fujian Oolong
The tea perfectly develops its flavor both in Yixing teapot and in porcelain gaiwan. First steeping is normally discarded as it is unsavory, lean and full of tea dust, which distorts the flavor of the tea. The tea is served to guests after the second steeping. There are no requirements as to the large number of steepings for Wuyi oolongs. 5-7 times are considered enough. Normally 7 grams of tea are brewed in fast steepings with 100 °С water.
Storage of North Fujian Oolong
Wuyi oolongs remain quite enjoyable up to 3 years as their leaves are hard enough and roasting degree is strong. As a matter of fact it is considered that upon one year the tea acquires more balanced flavor than it has immediately after its production. In some cases long aging improves the taste of the tea as well. Therewith it is recommended to store rock oolong, similar to pu-ers, with access of air which enables aroma to develop inside the leaf.
Illustrated by screenshots from film 武夷岩茶传统制作工艺《叶嘉茶业》.