What Is Wuyi Oolong Tea?
The Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian are one of the oldest and most traditional tea producing regions in China. This area is most famous for it's oolong teas. Because of the rocky environment they grow in, these yan cha, or "cliff teas", have a unique mineral flavor. They are the most oxidized style of oolong, and are often given a heavy roast as well. Combined, these factors create a captivating richness on the palate.
These oolongs are not the only type of tea produced in this storied region. But they seem in many ways to embody the spirit of the mountain range. The traditional roast emphasizes the mineral-rich flavor imparted by the soil.
How Is Wuyi Oolong Tea Made?
Wuyi oolongs are harvested once per year, in mid-May. The most coveted groves grow on the cliff sides, with terraces giving way to rocky peaks. Many varieties have grown in this region over the generations of tea farms. But they all undergo similar steps in processing.
Leaves are laid out and sun-withered after harvesting. Then, they undergo several rounds of bruising and resting to create oxidation. Finally, they are roasted to remove any remaining moisture. Traditionally, this final roast was done over a charcoal pit. This method required several successive rounds of roasting. Between roasts, the crafter must let the leaves rest to avoid burning. Today, modern producers use convection ovens to make the process easier. But tea connoisseurs know that this shortcut sacrifices an unbelievable richness in flavor.
Signs Of Quality
The quality of the soil and water can make or break the mineral richness of these teas. So the location and elevation of the farm is key to the quality of the finished leaf. Zheng yan, or "true cliff" teas are considered the highest grade. They have a more distinctive mineral note than teas grown further down the mountains.
But we find that quality of craftsmanship is most important to this tea's character. We make an effort to find teas from this area that are hand-processed. Crafters in this protected nature reserve use time-honored techniques perfected over centuries. Harvesting, bruising, and roasting adds fascinating layers to the complexities of these teas. Each step requires an incredible amount of precision and expertise to get right.