Recently, we had a visitor from another German city in our shop in Neustadt, Dresden. In Particular, he wanted to have some of our favorite Yancha and gladly shared his opinions and experience with us about tasting Wuyi Yancha. Since it was really a jolly conversation with such a tea enthusiast, after this pleasant encounter I wanted to write about more detailed stories of Wuyi Yancha to share with you guys.
The place where Wuyi-Yancha grows
On the rocky cliffs and in the valleys between the sublime cliffs of Mt. Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China, Wuyi Yancha (武夷岩茶), one of China's top ten famous teas, grows. Wuyi Yancha belongs to Qing Cha (青茶), known as Oolong. It is a representative tea of Min Bei Oolong (闽北乌龙), a branch of Fujian Oolong (福建乌龙). As with all Oolong tea, Wuyi Yancha is partially oxidized. The oxidation level comes between 30-70%.
Wuyi Mountain is a splendid high mountain registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, over 700 m above sea level with warm temperature and high humidity all year round, a perfect natural environment for tea cultivation. Wuyi mountain is shrouded in fog and mist most times of the year, with over 2000 mm of rainfall annually, an average annual temperature of 17.5°C, sunshine of over 1900 hours and humidity of 80%. The soil of Mt. Wuyi is red sandstone, and the gaps between the rocks provide rich soil for tea trees to grow luxuriantly, therefore the name Yancha (rock tea). It is believed that Wuyi Yancha was the first Oolong tea processed in the world, inspiring the birth of the whole genre of Oolong tea to follow.
The harvest of Wuyi-Yancha
Harvesting takes place in two seasons, spring and summer. Tea leaves picked in spring account for 80% of the total, and the quality is much better. Unlike green tea, which is picked from young tea buds, Yancha is picked from open tea leaves for their unique aroma and tastes.
The production of Wuyi Yancha
Since there are thousands of different types of Wuyi Yancha, the production method varies depending on the species and growing area, but the basic process is usually carried out according to the following steps:
- Cai Zhai (采摘) - Picking the leaves. Instead of only buds, opened leaves are preferred for richer and less bitter tastes. Usually each picking contains 3-4 opened leaves.
- Wei Diao (萎凋) - Withering. A fundamental process that determines the aroma and flavor of yancha by evaporating the moisture in the tea leaves and softening the leaves. After the newly picked leaves are sun-dried for a while, they are placed in a large bamboo tray and dried indoors to get rid of some moisture.
- Zuo Qing (做青) - Oxidizing. This is a crucial step in deciding the aroma of the tea. Tea leaves are placed in a bamboo tray and shaken; this manual step is the so-called Yao Qing (摇青)。This process creates conditions that cause oxidation by breaking the cells of the tea leaves. In this way, a larger contact area for oxidation can be created. However, this step can also be achieved by placing the leaves in a cylindrical machine, and letting the rotation of the machine cause leaves to collide and the edges of the leaves to crush, resulting in oxidation in these areas.
A pause is then taken, during which temperature and humidity are adjusted to allow sufficient time for oxidation to occur. The degree of fermentation/oxidation is controlled by the intensity and number of repetitions of these two processes.
- Liang Qing (凉青) - Cooling. It gives the oxidation reaction enough time to actually occur under control of temperature and humidity. Zuo Qing and Liang Qing are repeated several times.
- Sha Qing (殺青) - Stopping further oxidation. In this process, tea leaves are roasted at high temperature in a pot to evaporate moisture and to prevent further oxidation by stopping all enzymatic activities.
- Rou Nian (揉捻) - Kneading. This is the process that gives the tea the desired shape and determines its flavor. Kneading and rubbing by hand or machine damages the cells of the tea leaves and brings the flavors onto the surface of the leaves which makes the essential oils instantly ready to be infused into hot water when brewed.
- Hong Bei (烘焙) - Baking. This process removes residual moisture to better store the tea while building aroma compounds. Baking tea leaves in a bamboo vessel placed on a charcoal-covered fire is called Tan Bei (炭焙), and tea made by this traditional method is more rich in flavor and more suitable to store. In the production of Wuyi Yancha, this process is painstakingly repeated several times. This repetition creates and stablize the unique aroma and flavor of Wuyi Yancha.
Which cultivars of Wuyi Yancha are famous?
Like the Phoenix Danchong, Wuyi Yancha is a generic name, not a name of a specific tea. In general, Da Hong Pao (大红袍), Tie Luo Han (铁罗汉), Bai Ji Guan (白鸡冠), and Shui Jin Gui (水金龟) are bundled together, and it is called the Four Great Masterpieces of Wuyi Yancha (四大名枞). Ban Cheon Yo (半天腰 / 半天妖) is also occasionally beloved, well. Including this, it is sometimes referred to as one of the Five Great Masterpieces of Wuyi Yancha (五大名枞). But when it comes to their market position, Rougui (肉桂) and Shui Xian (水仙) are certainly no less than other Yancha. In terms of production and popularity, it is said that when Rougui and Shui Xian are combined, it accounts for about half of the total production of Yancha.
As I just mentioned above, Wuyi Yancha is often referred to by cultivar, and sometimes by place of origin as well. Zhengyan Yancha (正岩茶) refers to tea produced mainly from the center of Mt. Wuyi National Park, world-famous for its idyllic natural environments: majestic mountain cliffs looming in mist and clouds, countless mountain springs crisscrossing the valleys and woods teeming with exotic flora and fauna. The upper layer of the soil above the volcanic rocks which formed some 80 million years ago can be as thick as 90cm, providing the tea trees and bushes with rich nutrients. In addition, there are many wild orchids along the rocks surrounding the valley, so Zhengyan Yancha is also characterized by an elegant floral scent from here. Generally, Zhengyan Yancha is recognized as the best, and naturally the most pricey, of Wuyi Yancha.
On the other hand, Banyan Yancha (半岩茶) is produced in a terrain slightly off the center of Wuyi Mountain National Park. The soil of this area is composed of humus and rock layers, but its rock layers are less than Zhengyan terrain. Although it is one grade lower than Zhengyan Yancha, Banyan Yancha is also recognized in China as a good quality of Yancha.
The 4 features of Wuyi Yancha
So, what makes Wuyi Yancha so special to the tea drinkers? These are the 4 elements fragrance, cleanness, sweetness, and vitality.
First, 香 Xiang, means literally fragrance in Chinese. Compared to other teas, the fragrance of Wuyi Yancha is characterized by its long-lasting and intense scent. Also, in China, it is said that Wuyi Yancha smells like a combination of the purity of green tea and the intensity of black tea.
Second, 清 Qing, cleanness. It is one of the charms of Wuyi Yancha because it has a pure, fresh aftertaste and a clean feeling even when you look into the color of it, as well as a clean scent.
Third, 甘 Gan, sweetness. The kind of sweetness that points to morning dew, mountain spring or glacial water. To appreciate this sweet taste, you need to taste a variety of yancha and try to find out what it tastes like, and once you do find it, you will fall in love with the true charm of Yancha.
Lastly, 活 Huo, vitality. This character 活, meaning vitality or energy, refers to the feeling after drinking Wuyi Yancha. It is the feeling of tea energy that is gathered between heaven and earth in Wuyi Mountain channeling through your body. It is an energy of clearness, vitality, tranquility and contentment.
People usually talk about “Yan Yun” (岩韵; rock rhyme) when they talk about the beauty and taste of Wuyi Yancha, or “Yan Gu Hua Xiang” (岩骨花香; literarily, rock bone and flora aroma). Rock rhyme, Rock bone or Rock-ness, these terms all point to the spirit of Yancha, a spirit that comes with its drifting flora charm that subdues all the tea lovers at the moment of encounter.
The Yanchas you can find at Teewald
For you to experience the Rock Spirit and Flora Charm of Wuyi Yancha, currently we offer you at TEEWALD:
- Zhuke Rougui Yancha - very good to start into the Yancha world. Rougui Yancha from Zhuke Valley is well-known for its rosy and fruity aroma.
- Rougui Wuyi Yancha - roasty, sweet, mineral with a spicy and sweet aftertaste. Highly recommended!
- Bai Ji Guan Zhengyan Yancha - nutty like lotus seeds, sweet and a little medicinal like honeysuckle.
- Huang Guan Yin Zhengyan Yancha - creamy and sweet. Very sophisticated and neat.
- Qi Lan Zhengyan Yancha - the mixture of wet wood, green mango and orchid is the best description for this yancha.
How to brew Wuyi Yancha
There are hundreds of varieties of tea trees of Yancha, but the methods for making Wuyi Yancha are similar.
Traditional Chinese Method (Kungfucha / Gongfucha):
- 95-100° C water
- 6-8 g for 150 ml
- 30 seconds for the first infusion, 20 seconds for the later infusions
A good quality of Yancha can be brewed in the Gongfucha style at least about 8 times
Take away tips: How can you recognize a good Yancha selling in the market?
Check the name of the Yancha to see if it contains the name of the origin, e.g. Zhengyan, Banyan or Wuyi Yancha.
Check the cultivar of the Yancha to see if it is one of the highly appreciated varieties, e. g. Bai ji Guan, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Luo Han, Rougui, Shui Xian...
Fully use your eye, nose, tongue, throat and body to judge a Yancha
Eye, look if the dry leaves are beautifully rolled whole leaves. It is normal to see some broken leaves, but if the whole back is mostly broken small leaves with barely any whole leaves, you can already take the tea off the level of top quality Zhengyan Yancha.
Nose, smell the dry leaves and wet leaves. Dry leaves should be comfortably roasty and nutty like summer hay or heated rocks, and wet leaves should be slightly smoky, fruity and flowery. Both dry and wet leaves should not be very smoky or too toasty, which means the baking process is overdone or the tea is fresh out of the oven and needs time to calm down.
Tongue, good Yancha has really smooth texture and gives mineral sensation on both sides of the tongue. It should not leave your tongue dry or even like coated after swallowing the liquid.
Throat, one should feel a very comfortable sweetness and coolness in the throat after drinking the tea. There should be no harshness or other tickling feeling in the throat.
Body, good Yancha has good tea energy that makes one feel relaxed, calm but at the same time awake.
Taste the tea! There are a myriad of prices and qualities of Yancha available on the market. The most important factor in judging if it is good is to see if it suits you: how you feel about the taste and aroma of the Yancha you just tasted and how you feel in your body after drinking it. In short, try more, taste more and sense more. Sounds difficult at the same time tempting? Welcome on board, now it’s time to be off on your journey to the wonderful world of Wuyi Yancha. Wish you good luck to find your “Yan Yun” (岩韵).
Was this post helpful? Maybe now you want a warm cup of Yancha? If so, check out the Yancha collection of our online store and leave a comment if you have further questions.