After sampling many a oolong flight throughout the summer months, we are thrilled to have finally arrived at a rock oolong that we’re proud to add to the Rivers & Lakes catalog. Rock Oolongs hail from the stunningly idyllic volcanic mountains of Wuyishan in Northern Fujian province. Traditional wulong cultivars grown in these acidic and unique mineral profile crags of Wuyi combined with slow charcoal roasting methods honed for generations contribute to the cornerstone tea experience that is rock oolong, or 岩茶 yánchá.
The most fancy and kingly priced rock oolongs are born inside the beautiful Wuyishan Scenic Area, a celebrated Unesco World Heritage Site. Historically, the teas from the park are referred to as 正岩 zhèngyán “truly from the rock” with specific lots often spoken for well ahead of harvest time. With the demand exceeding the supply of the prestigious zhengyan rock oolong, tea drinkers must be aware of spurious lower-quality imitations grown at lower elevations in ecologically detrimental conditions that sponge up unassuming buyer interest via association and proximity. To make matters more hairy, some producers even told us that the government is now allowing all teas in the greater Wuyi area to market zhengyan status, in effect obfuscating any reliability of the term to serve as a differentiating market indicator. In cases like these, when specialty, niche teas become so lusted after that true market prices and the prevalence of falsification begins to balloon, it not only becomes personally rewarding to find viable alternatives, it becomes beneficial — even critical — to a balanced market.
During our latest trip to Wuyishan, we had the pleasure of meeting 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, yet sits higher in elevation.
At a pastoral 400 meters, the Yues grow just a few classic varieties of yancha and meet a growing market demand for higher quality rock oolong that doesn’t pretend to be zhengyan. With this year’s Da Hong Pao Light Fire we found a delightfully layered vegetal flavor, sweet fragrance, and pleasant aftertaste 岩韵 yán yùn “rock rhyme” — a huigan of sorts for good rock oolong, where the minerality leaves a palate altering residue and your breath feels good. A lovely smell meets you if you decide to go in for a smell of the empty cup after a session. The cultivar is Orchid Fragrance Da Hong Pao smaller leaf variety 兰花香大红袍小品种, and the roast is 轻火 light fire. We hope you’ll get to enjoy this irresistibly tasty yancha offering with us, without the hype.