Rock Wulong 2018
A truly unique rock wulong with a distinctive lingering floral aroma and a deep, sweet flavor. This hand-processed tea is delicately roasted to preserve the natural fragrance.
- Tea Origin
- Wu Yi Mountain, Fujian Province
- Tea Bush
- Qi Lan
- Tea Master
- Zhou You Sheng
- Harvest Time
- Late April - Early May
- Picking Standard
- 1 bud 3 leaves (San Ye Yi Xin)
Qi Lan stands out among rock wulongs by virtue of its distinctive lingering orchid fragrance. Named “Lan” (orchid) for its floral character, it is smooth and complex rather than sharp. Qi Lan producers strive for a tea with a well-developed aroma that has sweet notes reminiscent of caramelized sugar. Its initial subtlety encourages you to breathe its fragrance in more deeply and experience the lasting rich character. The aroma and flavor build up to a rich complexity as you drink this tea through its many bright yellow-orange infusions. Qi Lan is always lightly roasted to preserve its beautiful aroma. In addition, the traditional charcoal roasting of the leaves helps create a deep, full flavor. This tea is famous for the developing sweetness that lingers after the tea is swallowed. Its soft and slippery flavor betrays no hint of bitterness or tannic sharpness.
While Qi Lan is now a famous Wu Yi cultivar, it originated in southern Fujian Province. It was imported to the Wu Yi Mountains in the 1990s. Wu Yi has a long history of tea production, and has been a source of fine tribute teas for centuries. The forested rocky mountainsides in this region possess rich volcanic soil. Many natural springs provide clean water throughout the mountains. Together with Wu Yi’s climate, this provides an ideal environment for growing healthy tea bushes and making high quality tea.
Making Qi Lan
The leaves used to make our Qi Lan are harvested from late April to early May. The leaves are plucked a little earlier than most wulongs, at the 1 bud 3 leaves stage of growth known as San Ye Yi Xin. At this stage, the last leaf on the stem has just barely begun to open from the bud. Though most teas these days are harvested by machine, this tea is always plucked by hand to avoid damaging the leaves. This also ensures that the leaves adhere closely to the correct plucking standard needed to make this special tea.
After harvesting, the leaves wither for a few hours in the sun before being moved into a warm room to begin the delicate oxidation process. Qi Lan is oxidized in the time-consuming traditional tray-shaking method. In this process, the fresh tea is spread on round bamboo trays and intermittently shaken back and forth to gently bruise the leaves. Carefully bruising the leaves this way breaks open some of their cells. This exposes the oxidation-causing enzymes inside to the oxygen in the air and speeds up this natural process. Facilitating oxidation in this manner rather than chopping the tea preserves the whole-leaf quality required for high-grade teas.
This method of oxidation requires great skill and stamina on the part of the tea master. They will spend a great amount of time throughout the oxidation process shaking each large tray of leaves by hand in carefully practiced motions. For hours, they will repeat the shaking for each tray every 30 minutes or so, for up to eight repetitions. Relying only on the sensitivity of their well-trained hands, nose, and eyes to detect minute changes in the texture, smell, and appearance of the tea, the tea master allows oxidation to continue until they sense that it has reached the right point.
Once oxidation has progressed enough, the tea master hand-fries the tea in a dry wok at around 230°C (446°F). This destroys the oxidation-causing enzymes so that the leaves do not oxidize any further. Then they knead the still-hot leaves by hand on a bamboo tray to twist them tightly into the traditional long, twisted wulong shape.
Roasting and refining
Much like our highly aromatic Que She (Sparrow’s Tongue) and Bai Ji Guan (White Rooster Crest) rock wulongs, most producers prefer to roast Qi Lan quite lightly. Qi Lan in particular is only roasted twice, and never at temperatures higher than 110°C (230°F). This lets its distinctive aroma take center stage in the final tea without hiding it under a strong charcoal scent. Once the tea has been fried and shaped, it is gently dried in an oven roast. This results in unfinished, unsorted tea known as maocha. Before being charcoal roasted to develop a deeper, fuller taste, workers hand-sort the maocha to remove the sprigs and broken leaves.
The sorted leaves are put through a light traditional charcoal roast using charcoal made from locally sourced Wu Yi wood. Although the temperature of the charcoal stove is adjusted depending on the weather, the roast lasts for 8-10 hours. Immediately after roasting, the tea master brews some of the tea to taste it. Testing the taste and aroma of the tea helps them decide whether it needs to be roasted for a half-hour or so longer. While some varieties of Qi Lan are given a slightly heavier roast, our Qi Lan is the lightest-roasted variety with the highest aroma.
The final product
The end result is a carefully crafted traditional rock wulong with small, dark and shiny leaves. This tea is a good choice for someone who wants to truly enjoy all the nuances of an excellent rock wulong throughout its many infusions. Qi Lan’s unique and lasting aroma, paired with its lingering sweetness and depth of flavor, make for a distinguished tea well worth all the effort that goes into it.
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.
Qi Lan 2018 brewing guidelines
Teaware: 12 oz. glass, porcelain or yi xing clay pot
Amount: 1 1/2 Tbs of tea leaves
Water: 212°F (boiling) filtered water
Infusion: First infusion at least 1 minute. The leaves are good for 5 infusions.