Remembering the father of Big Red Robe: One tea master’s lasting impact on the world of rock wulong.

Newsletter Archive Apr. 1, 2021

Chen Dehua and Zhuping Hodge happily conversing and gesturing, seated at a wooden table with teacups and notebooks on it, with shelves of ornate boxes of tea behind them.
Zhuping studying rock wulong with Seven Cups’ longtime friend, tea master Chen Dehua.

As a new tea season opens, we’re toasting to the memory of our friend Mr. Chen Dehua.

Chen Dehua was one of Wuyishan’s most important teamakers. Some people knew Mr. Chen as “The Father of Da Hong Pao.” Da Hong Pao (aka Big Red Robe) of course, is the most famous style of tea in Wuyishan and perhaps the most prestigious of wulong teas in the world today. Mr. Chen was a rare figure, one who made monumental contributions to what we know and enjoy about wulong tea today. From tea cultivation to tea production to tea packaging and marketing, he did it all.

Mr. Chen played an integral role in the development of the Qi Dan (Mystery Red) tea bush, a cultivar derived from cuttings of the Big Red Robe mother bushes in the Dragon’s Nest at the heart of Wuyishan National Park. Thanks to Chen Dehua, farmers in Wuyishan can now plant Qi Dan and give us a taste of these famous and highly protected bushes. Although he may be best known for this, it is far from Mr. Chen’s only contribution to the quality and renown of Wuyishan’s tea.

A close look at the leaves and upright woody branches of a Qi Dan tea bush.
A Qi Dan tea bush growing out front of Chen Dehua’s tea factory, propagated from cuttings of one of the original Da Hong Pao mother bush.

As a young man, Chen Dehua was the first to bring an electric generator to the tea factory, providing a reliable source of light and energy throughout the all-night processes it takes to make rock wulong. Later, when he served at the Wuyishan Tea Research Institute (where he eventually became the director), Mr. Chen worked on less than an acre of land (5 mu to be exact) to build a unique experimental tea garden. In this garden he grew and studied 165 different tea varieties, publishing extensive research on their relative qualities and teaching how better tea can be made from each of them.

Ever the innovator, Mr. Chen was also among the first, if not the first, to compress rock wulong into bricks for aging, similar to puer tea. He actually worked on this project with Hu Haoming of Chamasi tea company, an old friend of Seven Cups and the maker of many of our puer teas including Gongting (Palace Puer) and Jia Cang (Home Store Puer). Together, Mr. Chen and Mr. Hu compressed chocolate bar sized cakes of rock wulong, richly roasted for the purpose of aging.

When Mr. Chen passed away at the end of last year, his son Chen Zheng took over the business. Their teas will be featured in the Signature Tea Passport (now The Origin Series) this year.

We hope these excellent teas give you a small taste of the lifetime of skill that went into their creation.

Spilled water reflecting light from the windows trailing across a tea table, with a full pitcher of deep red wulong tea and brewing accessories in the background.
Brewing Qi Dan rock wulong with Chen Dehua.

Teahouse Video Series

Do you miss talking tea with our tea house crew? Now you can join Wren and Santos for a (virtual) cup on YouTube every week. Today, Santos is brewing up the Gongting (Palace Puer) and sharing his own take on steeping this beauty. Watch out for a new tea each week.