Wuyi Oolong Tea and Mountain
A Beginner's Guide

Wuyi oolong tea is the world’s most sought after oolong tea. The priceless Dahongpao is widely regarded as the King of Oolong.

wuyi oolong teaWuyi tea not a single tea variety, but refers collectively to the teas grown on the Wuyi Mountain of Fujian Province in China.

Some vendors in the West sell Wuyi green tea, which is unheard of in China. Wuyi Mountain is renowned for producing oolong tea, not green tea.

Wuyi oolong tea is also known as Rock Tea or Yancha.

This is unfortunate, because the word yan is more accurately translated as crag.

It is called the Crag Tea because Wuyi Mountain is a large volcanic fault structure that consists mainly of vertical cliffs, deep gorges and cave systems.


Wuyi oolong tea is one of China's 10 famous teas. It belongs to a family of teas from northern Fujian Province called Mingbei Oolong.

The tea leaves in this family are long and curly rather than ball-shaped, and are more oxidized and roasted than their southern cousin Tieguanyin.

It has an unique taste called Rock Rhyme (Yanyun), so called because of the high mineral content of Wuyi Mountain.

In China, the unique flavor is often described as "crag bone floral fragrance".

The body is mellow with an outstanding orchid fragrance. The aftertaste is said to be long lasting and rock-like.


Wuyi tea has a long and glorious history.

Song dynasty's poets Fan Zhongyan and Su Shi both alluded to its fame and tribute tea status as early as the 11th century.

Su Shi is also known as Su Dongpo. He is renowned for his ci style poetry, which embodies great symmetry, beauty and feeling. 

He also lent his name to Dongpo pork, a popular Shanghainese cuisine.

When the Mongolian calvary lorded over China in the 14th century, an imperial tea garden was set up on Wuyi Mountain to cater for the emperors.

According to William Ukers, who wrote All About Tea in 1935, Wuyi oolong tea was one of the first teas to be exported to Europe in the early 17th century.

Wuyi Mountain

The secret of Wuyi oolong tea lies in its geographical position.

Make no mistake. Authentic Wuyi tea is rare, so rare that it is hardly available in the West.

If somebody sells you Wuyi tea for $5, and claims it was grown on a cliff, beware - the merchant is lying. This doesn't mean you shouldn't buy the tea. I just want you to go in with a realistic expectation.

Why? Because the Mountain spreads out over an area of just 60 kilometers square. Most vendors sell Wuyi tea grown in the surrounding area rather than those from the middle of the Mountain.

Situated in the Fujian Province of Southern China, it has an average elevation of 650 metes above sea level.

The landscape is characterized by winding river valleys flanked by dome-shaped cliffs and cave systems.

The nine-bend river (Jiuqu Xi) meanders in a deep gorge among these hills.

wuyi oolong tea

It is famous for its 36 peaks and 99 crags, with tea being cultivated in each crag.

Wuyi Mountain is a mecca for biologists.

Scientists have been busy conducting field research there since 1873. They have identified nearly 4,000 plant species and 5,000 animal species.

Wuyi tea plants even have their own name - Var Bohea. It is widely regarded as the richest depository of tea varieties in the world.

Its biodiversity and rich history received recognitions in 1999 when it entered the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.

Manufacturing Process

A standard pick is one bud with 3 or 4 leaves, when the buds at the top of a bush reach half the size of a mature leaf.

Harvesting can take place 3 times a year in spring, summer and autumn.

wuyi oolong tea

Leaf selection is the most important determinant of quality. Another 5 steps follow:

  • Withering (Weidiao)

Freshly picked leaves are left in the sun to dry from 0.5 to 2 hours to remove moisture, then moved indoors to cool.

  • Bruising (Zhuoqing or Yaoqing)

Shake and rub using hands or machines to bruise the surface of the leaves. This exposes tea juices to air and enhances the oxidation process.

  • Fixation (Shaqing)

Pan-fry leaves at high heat for a short period of time to kill enzymes and stop the oxidation process.

  • Rolling (Rounian)

Roll the leaves to shape them into the desired form. The roasting-rolling process is then repeated a second time to further stimulate the flavors.

  • Baking (Hongbei)

Apply initial high heat for 10 to 15 minutes to dry. Then apply low heat for 1 to 2 hours to increase the floral aroma and mellow taste.


Wuyi oolong tea can be graded according to where it is grown:

  • Middle of Crags (Zhengyan Cha)

  • Border of Crags (Banyan Cha)

  • Surrounding Crags (Zhoucha)

  • Outside the Mountain

The highest quality tea is Zhengyan Cha. It grows in the middle of Crags in what's called the "Three Valleys and Two Ravines".

Only Zhengyan Cha has the famous Rock-like flavors (Yanyun). The next grade Banyan Cha has much weaker Yanyun.

Wuyi Rock Tea Buyers Guide - Types and Grades


wuyi oolong teaWuyi tea plant varieties is a complicated topic.

It was said that one crag (Huiwan Yan) has as many as 830 named varieties.

Imagine, there are 99 famous crags in the whole of Wuyi Mountain, how many varieties are there in total?

For a thousand or more years, hundreds and thousands of tea plants were selected from the middle of the Mountain for cultivation. These tea bushes are known as Dancong Qizhong.

The best among them are known as Mingcong Qizhong or Famous Tea Bush.

The most renowned of the Famous Tea Bush is the Dahongpao (Big Red Robe). He is widely regarded as the King of Oolongs.

Please note there are many types of Dahongpao tea, it doesn't automatically mean that all Dahongpao teas are superlative.

Next come the Famous Four:

  • Shui Jin Gui (Golden Turtle)

  • Tie Luo Han (Iron Monk)

  • Bai Ji Guan (White Rooster)

  • Ban Tien Yao (Middle Sky)

The other two major families of Wuyi tea are the Rougui and Shuixian. These two types of tea, together with the Dahongpao, make up the bulk of the production of modern Wuyi tea.

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Chen Zhong Xian (1992). Zhongguo Chajing. Shanghai Wenhua Chubanshe.

Photos are kindly provided by the Wuyi Mountain Government Unit.

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