WuYi Mountains, Fujian Province, China
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999
(A special 'thank you' to Meng Jiao for sharing photos of the area she was born in and of her family and neighbors' plantations).
This region, situated in South East China and considered one of the best subtropical forests in the world, produces one of China's most famous teas, called Da Hong Pao or Big Red Robe which is highly prized in China. The tea is an oolong, meaning 'black dragon', and is one of only two oolongs to have made it to the list of China's famous teas (the other being Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess). It is also referred to as a Cliff or Rock tea and there are four famous types: Big Red Robe, Iron Arhat, White Cockscomb and Golden Turtle.
Legend says that an Emporer's mother was cured of an illness by drinking the tea from 4 bushes. The Emperor, in gratitude, clothed the bushes in magnificent red robes. Three of those ancient bushes, dating back to the Song dynasty, still exist today and are heavily guarded in a protected park. Da Hong Pao has garnished over $35,000 for an ounce in the past, considered more expensive than gold. Cuttings have been taken from the original bushes which has led to consistent quality and similar grades, and the tea is still reserved for special guests.
Cliff teas are categorized by the area that they are grown in and get their name from clinging to the sides and bottom of cliffs that are protected by gorges; these gorges also offer just the right amount of protection from the sun and wind. Every morning mist is funneled through the gorges, which provides 80% humidity since the area abounds in mineral rich waterfalls and running water. The best hand sorted cliff tea is from the central area and is called 'Wuyi Authentic Cliff Tea' or Zhengyan Cha and can be found in the guarded park. 'Halfway Cliff Tea' or Banyan Cha can be found on the outside of the park, most bushes now grown on terraces and still considered a good tea but of a lesser quality; and finally 'Wuyi Stream Cliff Tea' or Zhoucha, grown on the flatlands and by the streams, and is considered to have the least quality of the three.
Wuyi Mountain spreads out over 60 kilometers only, so it is unlikely that mountain grown oolong will reach the West, particularly since it is in much demand by the Chinese. The tea that reaches us is very likely from the surrounding areas, however, it could very well be excellent. (Compressed oolongs resembling pu-erh's can also be found).