Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe)

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Da Hong Pao is a tea made to represent the essential character of Wuyi Mountain rock wulong: a bold red infusion with layered mineral body with a sweet, enduring finish.  For this, well-crafted Da Hong Pao is beloved by seasoned rock wulong drinkers, and by the same virtue is an excellent introduction to the style.

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Tea Origin
Fujian Province

Tea Master
Liu Guo Ying

Harvest Time
April-May

Picking Standard
zhong kai mian (3 slightly open leaves)

Da Hong Pao Tea – The Most Famous Wulong


Easily the most famous wulong tea in China, what we know by the name, “Da Hong Pao,” is the product of three hundred years of innovation, studious agriculture, and fantastical lore.  Modern Da Hong Pao is a tea maker’s blend of leaves from bushes local to Wuyi Mountain, where wulong tea was first invented in the 16th century.

The name “Da Hong Pao” (or “Big Red Robe” in English) is alleged to have come from a few different stories. Some stories say its tea bushes were so revered that they were cloaked in red robes by imperial officials, while others simply claim the name was a poetic description for the color of local tea bushes when dusk light is cast through their newly grown leaves.

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

Whatever the case, for at least the last century, the characters “Da Hong Pao” have been carved in rock beside a cliff perched garden in Wuyi Mountain. The few bushes in this tiny garden are the ancestral material for the modern Da Hong Pao. Through the careful reproduction, the most hearty and flavorful of these bushes, known as “Qi Dan,” began to be used as the basis for the blend that is known as commodity Da Hong Pao, starting in 1985. The yield of this bush is low, however, and it is now common for commodity Da Hong Pao to be a blend of Qi Dan and other Wuyi cultivars. It is judged that a Da Hong Pao blend should be greater than the sum of its parts, exhibiting no single character for any one bush, but rather layers of complex and pleasing flavors.

History

In a Qing Dynasty record of Wu Yi tea varieties, Lu Ting Chan wrote that there were more than 500 hundred named varieties. In recent years, a survey was conducted to find living examples of these antique varieties. Only 156 examples remain. The high yielding and robust Rou Gui and Shui Xian cultivars, through government promotions in the late 1970’s, replaced these old bushes. Today still these two cultivars dominate and are frequently used in blending.

Processing

For this tea, the tea master has used the most traditional way of roasting. Mr. Liu uses only the heat of local charcoal to dry the leaves over multiple roastings with each roasting lasting for eight to twelve hours at a time. The tea gets dried above a charcoal pot with ashes. Each of these bamboo baskets, at their roasting apex, reach approximately 130 degrees celsius (or 266 degrees fahrenheit). Every 45 minutes to an hour, the tea gets removed from the basket and shaken so that there is an even roast on the leaves. This is a key indicator of traditional methods of roasting as a natural amount of breakage on the leaves occurs during the shaking.

 

Leaves being readied for transfer to bamboo tray seen here on the floor. This is to mix the leaves and get an even roast once they are placed back into the bamboo barrels.
These leaves will be transferred to tray to mix leaves for an even roast.

The first roast is called zou shui bei, which translates literally to “water walk roasting”. This roasting is the highest and will be anywhere between 120 degrees and 130 degrees Celsius. This roast usually lasts for about 8 hours since the temperature is the highest. Each subsequent roast will have the temperature reduced but will be roasted slightly longer.

Rests must be taken between roastings and they typically last anywhere between 25 days and a month. Resting is necessary since it allows the moisture to move entirely from the leaves in between roastings. The alternating periods of roasting and resting make for a very long production cycle, so while the tea is picked in early May, production will not terminate until approximately the end of August. Weather can also add to processing delays since absolutely no roasting is performed on rainy days. This time consuming traditional roasting technique increases the complexity and depth of the tea’s flavor, which will endure for years in storage.

No chemical fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide was used in the production of this tea. Click here to read more about our promise to fair trade and the environment.

Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) brewing guidelines

Teaware: 12 oz. glass, porcelain or yi xing clay pot
Amount: 1 Tbs of tea leaves
Water: 212 F (boiling) filtered water.
Infusion: First infusion at least 2 minutes.
The leaves are good for 4 infusions.