Da Hong Pao Tea is famous among Chinese oolong teas due to its royal reputation and long history. It originates from the Wu Yi Mountains found in the province of Fujian, where the highest quality tea is grown in China. The landscape of the mountain offers unique geographical and climatic conditions for this special tea with unique characteristics.
Why Is This Tea Special?
Right from the appearance, Da Hong Pao tea contains beautiful downy buds with one or two leaves. The leaves appear rolled and possess a greenish-brown color.
This tea is rich in orchid aroma with a long-lasting taste that makes it flavorful and one of its kind.
What Is Da Hong Pao Tea?
Considered as the King of Teas, it’s one of finest and highest quality teas made in Fujian Province of China. It is also known as Wu Yi Rock tea as it grows in Wu Yi Mountains, which gives it a “rock taste.” The tea is essentially made up of well-developed buds that have long twisted shoots. It is a semi-oxidized tea that contains large dark green leaves with a brownish tone.
The History of Da Hong Pao
The Chinese translation of Da Hong Pao is Big Red Robe. You may also find it in various other names such as large red robe, red hood, and green read clock, but that depends on translation.
There are many legends behind the name of this oolong tea, but we can look at two famous ones.
1. The Sickly Scholar
The first legend gives the story of a scholar who was traveling to the capital to take an imperial examination. However, he fell seriously ill and was kept in Tian Xin Temple under the care of Buddhist monks who help him restore his health by using some local herbs and teas.
After recovery, the scholar went on and passed his exam. Some people say he was the only one to pass the imperial exam in his class. To appreciate the monks for their kindness, the scholar presented them with a large red lob to cover the tea bushes where the monks picked the tea, hence the name.
2. The Emperor’s Sick Mother
Another legend speaks about the mother of the Ming Dynasty emperor who suffered an illness and was healed by drinking oolong tea from the Wu Yi Mountains. To thank the people who sent her the tea, the emperor sent large red coats to cover the bushes from which the magical tea was taken.
Whether the stories are true or not, one thing is certain, the tea bushes have been highly valued for centuries and were first used monks who used them for medicinal purposes. The Da Hong Pao tea received a royal recognition and was considered King of Teas. Only honored guests were allowed to enjoy a cup of this oolong tea.
But it’s not just the Chinese who love Da Hong Pao. Robert Fortune, a British botanist, traveled to the Wuyishan Mountain in 1849 on what he said was a secret mission. The mission was part of the agro-industrial surveillance at which the East India Company excelled. The company would get seeds from different plants and plant them elsewhere.
Britons were obsessed with tea, especially from China, but they could not easily get it because there was a massive trade deficit between the two countries. It was later discovered that the company had stolen the seeds of the Da Hong Pao tea to grow them elsewhere. The idea never worked as the seeds would not grow.
In 2002, a wealthy customer paid an excess of 180,000 yuan – about $28,000, for just 20g of mythical Da Hong Pao tea. Even in a culture that values tea drinking, the price was astonishing. Today, only a few bushes from the original teas exist.
Since 2006, tea picking on these venerate tea bushes is not allowed for preservation purposes. However, you can find antique and aged versions at the price of gold, almost priceless. So, Da Hong Pao tea was made as a result of a plant production process that involves the old tea clippings.
The bushes of this tea produce tea of a similar grade, at an affordable price. You do not need to pay exorbitant prices at tea markets for Da Hong Pao tea.
More Information about Da Hong Pao
What makes Da Hong Pao Tea unique is that it was not purposely planted. It was found in the wild plants that grew on the cliffs of Wu Yi Mountain in Fujian Province of China.
About 6 of the original bushes are still alive at the Tiaxin Rock. Tea makers in china for many generations still go to these mountains every spring, to ask the tea god, Lu Yu, to bring new shoots.
Today, a majority of shops in Wuyishan have set up a tea-tasting table for the ritual of kung fu tea.
So Why Is It Called The Big Red Robe?
According to the legends we talked about earlier, the mother of an emperor from the Ming dynasty sent red robes to Wu Yi as a token of appreciation to cover the four bushes growing on a rock. The four bushes still exist today, although no tea comes from the original trees anymore. Most of the tea today comes from purebred bushes.
Types of Big Red Robe Tea
This oolong tea is available in 3 main types in the market as follows:
1. Mother Tree Da Hong Pao Tea
They are the six original bushes that remain in the world, 2 of which date to the Song Dynasty. As a result, tea from these bushes is rare and arguably the most expensive tea on earth.
And since the government decreed that no more tea should be picked from the mother bushes, it’s impossible to have it. This will ensure that the bushes don’t become extinct or at least to ensure they can live as long as possible.
The reality is that none of us will ever taste this tea. No chance!
Luckily, it doesn’t even make any difference, because Purebred Hong Pao tea tastes just the same.
2. Purebred Da Hang Pao
In the 1980s, certain researchers from the Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences, took cuttings from the mother trees of Wu Yi to reproduce them asexually. The plan worked. They were able to reproduce new bushes that are basically identical to the original ones. In 1988, tea experts approved these clone bushes. The reason? They claimed that the bushes were equal to tea from the mother trees.
This is what led to an explosion of Big Red Robe production. Today, there are over 40,000 acres of land around the world that are dedicated to purebred production. The bushes are typically short and appear as shrubs with a crown at the top. Their branches are strong with oval-shaped leaves that look shiny green.
3. Commodity Da Hong Pao
The rise of purebred bushes led to a high demand of tea that the purebred bushes could not provide. As a result, the Tea Research Institute of Wu Yi mountain started to experiment with blends. They bred purebred bushes with other rock teas such as Shui Xian or Rou Gui.
The result was pleasant as it was well-received by both the aficionados and tea lovers. They praised the color and flavor of this tea. It was popularly referred to as “commodity dahongpao.”
Good blends should offer a mellow flavor and the right fragrance. That’s important.
The problem comes in when you want to buy Da Hong Pao tea, but you want to be sure that you are getting the right quality for your money. You want to avoid the weak quality teas that taste far inferior to what you already use.
You should determine whether the tea you get is Commodity Big Red Robe or just any other tea that grows in the area.
Harvesting and Processing
Da Hong Pao is a semi-oxidized tea that goes through several stages to make it aromatic and flavorful. Let’s go through each stage involved when processing this tea.
- Withering: after harvesting the highest grades of this tea, it is then spread and left to wither under the sun. This allows moisture to evaporate for oxidation to begin.
- Bruising: the dry leaves are shaken to increase oxidation. This plays a role in preventing bitterness and ensuring the original taste of tea leaves.
- Oxidation: the leaves are allowed to rest for further oxidation. Da Hong Pao oolong tea oxidizes to 40%. Oxidation causes the reddish color in the tea leaves as the leaves break down. This is what leads to a flowery and fruity taste in the tea.
- Fixing: in this stage, the leaves are hand-pressed before being baked in a hot pan. This process also prevents further oxidation to ensure the original flavor of the oolong tea remains.
- Rolling: the leaves are then rolled into their shape. This process helps to enhance the flavor even more.
- Drying: this process involves passing the tea in hot air to prevent any oxidation and preserve the tea.
- Firing: The final stage involves burning up the tea leaves with modern electric heat or charcoal to add a smoky and fruity flavor that has an aftertaste.
Drinking Da Hong Pao Tea
Traditionally, to brew and drink your Da Hong Pao Tea the right way, you needed a Gaiwan or small Yixing teapot. The need for using these small enough vessels is to help you drain all the tea with every steep. Therefore, you may need to buy several teapots and cups if you want to enjoy this tea.
To prepare and enjoy an excellent cup of this oolong tea, here is the procedure:
- Get 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons for each cup of water. Put the tea inside the Gaiwan or the brewing teapot.
- To help rinse the tea, pour hot water inside your pot and allow it to rest for about 5-10 seconds and then discard the water. This is an effective way to open the leaves before brewing.
- Now bring water to about 90 degrees or just under boiling and pour the water into the Gaiwan teapot
- The next step is steeping, where you need a good precision timer.
- Steep your tea for a minute for the first and second brew – high-quality Da Hong Pao tea can be re-brewed a few times. However, you need to fully drain the tea from the teapot to prevent the leaves from brewing.
- With each additional brew, add about a minute of brewing to achieve the same flavor as the previous. As you become familiar with brewing, you can adjust the amount of time and tea leaves to use for your brew.
- You should get a beautiful cup of tea with a bright orange color and a woody aroma.
Da Hong Pao Tea is a high quality tea that will leave a sweet, long lasting taste in your mouth. However, keep in mind that the process of brewing this tea will also determine how sweet your tea will be. Make sure to prepare using the right vessels and procedure to enjoy the original flavor and taste of this tea.