Liu Guoying

A man in a formal red jacket shaking a round bamboo tray to toss the tea leaves on it back and forth.
Master rock wulong tea maker Liu Guoying performing the traditional tray-shaking technique of wulong oxidation by hand.

Liu Guoying is arguably the most influential maker of rock wulong working today. We’ve called him the guy who wrote the book on making rock wulong. He is recognized with the title of National-Level Inheritor of Intangible Cultural Heritage from China’s Ministry of Culture for his mastery of the craft. At a fairly young age of 54, he’s known throughout Wuyishan as “teacher” and “old Liu.” We’re proud to also call him an old friend.

Austin and Liu first crossed paths nearly 20 years ago, back when Liu was an eager student of Yao Yueming. In the time since, the two have shared some memorable experiences together. They careened around mountain roads together in Liu Guoying’s first car, saw the construction of Liu’s own tea factory. Liu even asked Austin to choose an English name for his daughter, Gabriella, who’s since grown up to study in the United States and now practices law in Beijing. Austin and Liu have kept a friendship through nearly two decades of challenges and achievements in work and life (not to mention massive changes in the tea industry of Wuyishan). The friendship started and continues not simply because of doing business together but rather because of a shared passion for expanding the world’s esteem of Chinese tea’s culture and the availability of well-made tea.

With Mr. Liu’s rise to recognition, the tea from Mr. Liu’s factory, Yanshang Tea Research Institute, is now sold almost entirely under exclusive contracts with tea shops within China. Somehow we’ve remained an exception in that we’ve continued to purchase his tea not by any special contract but through the course of friendship.

Liu Guo Ying, left, brewing specialty tea at a tea table surrounded by tasters for the Zhu Xi Cup tea competition.
Rock wulong tea master Liu Guo Ying brewing tea for Austin and Andrew at the Zhu Xi Cup tea competition in Wuyishan in 2018.

Standard-setting wulong expertise

Wuyi yancha (Wuyi “rock tea”) possesses both the rich fragrance of a green tea and the sweet and lasting character of a black tea. This is due to its highly complicated processing that results in a partially oxidized leaf, a skill which requires a lot of experience to master. A great many varieties of Wuyi yancha have become famed for their rich flavors and lingering mineral aftertaste known as yan yun or “rock rhyme.” Da Hong Pao is the most famous of these, and it has become synonymous with the name of Wuyi yancha for ordinary consumers.

In the course of becoming the rock wulong expert, in 1987 Mr. Liu graduated from Fujian Agricultural College with a bachelor’s degree in tea and was assigned to the Wuyishan Agricultural Technology Station by the government. He has been engaged in Wuyi tea production research, training guidance, and industrial management ever since and is now a senior technician in tea processing and renowned tea expert in Wuyishan City.

Liu Guoying strives to develop and introduce superior quality Wuyi rock tea cultivars through comparative experiments. He is a member of the domestic International Development Standards Committee for tea. During the Wuyishan Autumn Tea Expo every year, Mr. Liu hosts a folk tea competition where both ordinary tea people and tea experts taste and judge that year’s best yancha, black tea, white tea, and other famous Fujian teas. He also teaches more than 10 training courses on making yancha each year in Wuyishan’s main tea-producing villages. Making wulong tea is a complex craft, and mastering even a single part of the process such as traditionally tossing the leaves by hand for oxidation takes students two to three years.

Mr. Liu has written an approachable and easy-to-read guide “Cultivation, Management, and Processing of Wuyi Rock Tea” for tea farmers. This technical series teaches tea farmers how to select tea cultivars, plant and grow them, and make them into tea. He is very highly respected by local tea farmers. Since rock wulong’s rise in popularity, producing it has become a prosperous business that has benefited both specialists like Mr. Liu and the majority of Wuyi’s tea farmers.

A man in a tea processing warehouse squatting down to examine a few trays of withering tea leaves, with racks of dozens more trays behind him.
Liu Guoying hard at work inspecting the withering wulong leaves.