$14.00 – $62.00
Those seeking out strong, classic style rock oolong character for their collection will find accordance in the deeper, rich mineral tones and rosy orchid fragrances found in this robust varietal.
Though this tea features the heaviest roast we've carried in our rock oolong collection, the roast level is still considered medium as it was roasted for 15 hours, at three separate times. While the tea leaves were plucked in mid-May, the roasting isn't complete until August. Additional resting time of several months allows the layered roast to settle and become succinct into itself, often considered a mandatory incubation period for classic yancha connoisseurs.
It’s about as classic a yancha as you can get actually, as Iron Arhat or 铁罗汉 Tiě Luó Hàn originated in the mid-late 1700s, thus considered the oldest of the 4 great bushes of Wuyi, the 四大名丛 Sì Dà Míng Cóng.
Multiple fun origin tales about respectable arhats or monks are often recounted when introducing this tea. The stories not only reveal various historical frames and narratives, but also give us insight into some of the perceptions that continue to shape modern production, marketing, and experiencing of the tea as memetic thought. With lore around Tie Luo Han, we mainly we see this as an association with iron + minerals in general, in addition to an associated strength with more robust roast levels. The tea is associated with a monastic, peaceful, reverential, strong, and benevolent outlook, and is considered perhaps more medicinal than other teas; good for body and the mind.
This robust medium roast varietal is an ideal example of a tea that has been transformed by the Maillard reaction. We experience the Maillard reaction as a kind of caramelization; the transformation of flavor through the exposure of heat. Amino acids, sugars, and proteins are transformed in this process also known as non-enzymatic browning (enzymatic browning is another name for oxidation, 发酵 fā jiào).
Teas that start out having brighter, vegetal and floral tones take on nuttier, meatier, more sweeter tastes and darker tones that meld together once the leaves have been properly exposed to heat and transformed by the Maillard reaction. Many of our favorite foods and beverages (coffee, ghee, breads, chocolate, and much more) are enjoyed only after they've been transformed by the Maillard reaction. It can be useful to think of these roasted rock oolongs as iterations in this culinary tradition, just hailing from the specific cultural context of northern Fujian, with the utility of refined charcoal roasting as its medium.
Though it can be reductive + distracting to analogize away Tea's holism by naming other seemingly similar sensations when drinking a tea, the deeper roast levels of Tie Luo Han draws out uncanny reminiscence to qualities found in many other palate experiences, perhaps because of the commonalities shared between items that have also undergone the Maillard reaction.
I decided to grant myself a bit of liberty and garnish the following description of Tie Luo Han with such tasting notes:
Caramelized notes of oven-baked pastries and bready textures buoyantly slide onto the palate with each sip, any nutty vegetality underneath the roast appear as a mirage, quickly transforming into fruity, deep, florescent, aromatics. The playful texture of the soup rolling around in the jowls slightly astringe the mucosa of the mouth, refreshing them to be innervated by the subtle aromatics of the afterbreath.
Later steeps in the session reveal a pecan nuttiness taking shape as the dried stone fruit and rosiness subside into a more mineral-rich, medicinal broth. As each lubricating sip washes through, it leaves behind a charming sweetness: 甘 Gān. Exhalation aromatics more technically referred to as “retro-olfaction” and correlating empty cup fragrances continue to boldly entertain, as the soup texture remains active and slippery until the end.
The Yue family is our connection to well crafted and unpretentious 岩茶 yánchá or rock oolong. These remarkable teas hail from the Wuyi Mountains, the site of a UNESCO world heritage site that features stunning (previously volcanic) mountain crags that stand as a kingdom above lush forests, valleys, rivers, and springs. The mineral profile and acidity in these rocks and soil brings to life brilliant tea cultivars fostered for generations. While the scenic park's teas demand the highest prices, the price of admission to this club has become more elitist over the years. Incredible rock oolong in similar and proximal environs isn't impossible to be found upon careful searching.
During our latest trip to Wuyishan, we forged relations with the Yue family, an established greater Wuyi area tea family that tends to 8 acres of tea gardens just outside the Wuyishan Forest Park 森林公园 武夷山, another preserve located upstream just west of the more famous scenic area; north of Tongmu village. The Wuyishan Forest Park hosts a rich ecosystem of rare species of flora and fauna, old-growth forests, waterfalls, and shares the same volcanic mountain range as the scenic area, sitting at a similar elevation.
When asked about the specifics of their location and its terroir, they respond:
We are located at an altitude of 457 meters in 山口自然村 Shānkǒu Natural Village, with 吴三地 Wu Sandi to the west, located on the windward slope of the Wuyi Mountains, with sufficient precipitation, coupled with dense vegetation, sufficient evaporation, and high humidity. Heavy, readily forming clouds with mist create a warm and humid semi-shady environment with more scattered light suitable for the growth of tea trees. In addition, the soil in the mountain pass is weathered gravel suitable for the growth of tea trees. The soil has good permeability and high mineral content, which makes the growth of tea trees reach an ideal level.
In an industry fraught with newcomers claiming mastery of marketable + popular styles after just a handful of years, the Yue family has been honing their yancha craft for 3 generations. Yue Jun’s grandmother was the first to begin growing and processing tea in the township of 洋庄 Yángzhuāng. It was her who planted their original 奇丹 Qídān Da Hong Pao bushes, their Old Bush Shui Xian, as well as others.
Also noteworty is that the Yue family's work in Tea has been matrilineal, a line of female "tea bosses" in an industry dominated by good ol boys. Tea in Chinese society might be as old school as you can get, and deals can often be colored by a distinct machismo, a kind of patriarchal old guard influence that can seem inextricable from the eastern tea table, so much so that working with the Yue family is always refreshing.