Wuyi Rock Tea - Which to Buy?
Understanding the Six Families

Before you buy an Wuyi Rock tea, you need to know something about the authentic source of this tea. A guide to the six different types of this special tea.

Wuyi Mountain is the mother of Chinese oolong teas. She gave birth to some of the earliest teas exported to Europe in the early 17th century. It was an explosive success.

Even today, the charm of this tea remains undiminished. But if you are a connoisseur and want to understand what Wuyi is about, you may find it difficult to understand:

  • Where should you start? Wuyi Mountain is famed for its biodiversity. Thousands of tea varieties exist.

  • Can you trust your tea shop? Most reputable tea shops sell Chinese Wuyi teas. How can you be sure you are getting an authentic variety?

You will find some of these answers in this 4-part series.

Official Classification

Wuyi Rock tea can be classified according to the type of tea plant. While there are many ways to do this, it is perhaps most helpful to follow the official version, which divides the tea into five broad families:

  • Dahongpao Tea (Big Red Robe)

  • Shuixian Tea (Water Fairy)

  • Rougui Tea (Cinnamon)

  • Mingcong Tea (Famous Teas)

  • Qizhong Tea (Outstanding Teas)

Dahongpao, Shuixian and Rougui are tea varieties that are readily available from reputable tea shops.

They are most widely cultivated in Wuyi Mountain, as hundreds of years of trial and error have found them to be most suitable for large scale commercial production.

The remaining two - Mingcong and Qizhong - are broad terms used to describe a certain type of Wuyi Rock tea. It may all seem strange to you, so let me explain.

Mingcong and Qizhong

Wuyi Mountain is famed for its biodiversity, and there are literally countless varieties of tea plants that exist.

Over hundreds of years, people began to understand their unique characteristics and start assigning names. Such names are given according to the specific characteristics of the tea plants (such as leaf color and size) and surrounding environments. These tea plants are known as Dangcong.

Again, through many hundreds of years of tea competitions, certain Dangcong began to emerge as superior to others. They are known as Qizhong, which simply means Outstanding species.

Some Qizhong became famous. They are known as the Mingcong, or Famous Tea Bush.

Now, remember at the start of this article we talked about Dahongpao, Shuixian and Rougui being the widely cultivated in Wuyi Mountain? They also belong to the Mingcong family.

The Famous Four

So, continuing our discussion of the Mingcong, besides the Dahongpao, Shuixian and Rougui, we have the Famous Four (known as the Sida Mingcong), which include:

  • Shui Jin Gui (Golden Turtle)

  • Tie Luo Han (Iron Arhat)

  • Bai Ji Guan (White Rooster)

  • Ban Tien Yao (Middle Sky)

Now, if you are a tea veteran, you may recall Dahongpao being one of the Famous Four.

That has changed in recent years, as Dahongpao has been promoted to being one of the five main types of tea cultivated in Wuyi.  It has been replaced by Ban Tien Yao (Middle Sky).

The Famous Four are fairly accessible, but there is less available than Dahongpao, Shuixian and Rougiu.

As for the thousands of species of other Mingcong and Qizhong, they are only available in tiny quantities, and so are inaccessible.

They are considered wild, or semi-wild, and tend to grow in the Craggy parts of the Wuyi Mountain. Since Wuyi Mountain is protected under UNESCO, they have been left alone to preserve the biodiversity of the Mountain.

Which to Buy?

If you are just starting out on Wuyi Rock tea, it is best you start with Dahongpao, Shuixian and Rougui. By doing this, you will stand a better chance of tasting quality teas.

Many people have been sold into the idea of Dahongpao being a tea so special that it is only available in small quantities.

The first part is true, Dahongpao is indeed special.

The second part is untrue. It is one of the most cultivated of Wuyi teas.

No. 6: New Species

The sixth family not included in the official classification is the new species introduced into Wuyi from other parts of the Fujian province.

Strictly speaking, they should not be considered Wuyi Rock tea, as they lack Yanyun, or rock-like flavors. They are also not grown in the Craggy areas.

Examples include Qilan (Outstanding Orchid), Huang Guanyin (Yellow Goddess) and Dangui. These teas tend to be lightly roasted to maximize their floral notes and orchid fragrance.

Now you are going to ask: Given that Wuyi Mountain already mothers thousands of tea species, why does the Wuyi Research Institute bothers to add more varieties?

The answer is that these teas are much better adapted to growing outside the Craggy areas, and they are more fragrant.

This bring us to the next topic: the three Wuyi Styles.

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