Dà Hóng Pao is one of China’s most precious treasures. This tea is known all over the world and is considered one of the most expensive. This is because of where and how the plant is grown and its extraordinary properties.
Dà Hóng Pao – one of the most expensive teas in the world
Dà Hóng Pao is a legendary rock tea that originates from the Wuyi Shan Nature Reserve. It is ranked as one of the cleanest places in China and around the world, as no inorganic substances can be used there. The Chinese government has banned the use of pesticides, nitrates or heavy metals in the reserve. It is also under the protection of UNESCO. Its mountainous terrain has a specific microclimate that is extremely favourable to the growth of top-quality tea bushes. Some of their species develop right among the rocks and are referred to as Oolong, or dragon tea. Dà Hóng Pao falls into this category. Its name means Great Red Robe. There are several legends trying to convict the origin of this term. The most famous tale tells of a scholar suffering from illness who came to Beijing to take an exam. He met a monk from Tianxin Temple, and the monk, seeing the sage’s ill health, brewed him a bowl of rock tea. The infusion made the scholar feel much better and he regained his energy. Soon after, he passed the exam and came first among those who took the knowledge test. The scholar returned to the temple to thank the monk for his help. A further part of the legend tells of the sage’s use of rock tea in treating the Emperor himself, who, in gratitude, gave him a red robe and asked him to place it on a tea tree. He also gave orders that every official who would pass that way should place their red robes on the tea bushes as an expression of gratitude for the Emperor’s healing. This is how the plants acquired the name Dà Hóng Pao. Rock tea is the most precious beverage in China and one of the most expensive in the world. This is influenced by the traditional artisanal way of making this oolong, as well as its richness in minerals, vitamins and trace elements. During the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese people were obliged to worship Dà Hóng Pao with flowers, animals or fruit before harvesting its leaves. This was done every year. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the procedures for harvesting rock tea were made very strict. Any worker plucking leaves from its bushes, as well as preparing an infusion from these plants, had to undergo political vetting. When Richard Nixon, President of the United States, visited China in 1972, Mao Zedong gave him 200 g of Dà Hóng Pao as a sign of peace and friendship between the nations.
The origin of rock tea
The shrubs from which the leaves are harvested and rock tea is made grow in the Wuyi Shan mountains. They are located on the border of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. The quality of this type of oolong is determined by the origin of the bushes from which it is made. The most recognised class, and at the same time the most expensive, is that based on tea harvested from Dà Hóng Pao bushes. Lower down the hierarchy is the economic group, which is based on trees related to the most valuable bushes. This type of tea is also characterised by its high quality. The best plants originate from Dà Hóng Pao mothers. This type of bush has a history of thousands of years. There are currently only 6 mother trees growing on the Jiulongyu cliff, which are treated as rare treasures. In 2006, the Wuyi township authorities insured them and banned the private harvesting of leaves from Dà Hóng Pao bushes. The last batch of rock tea produced from the mother trees was sent to the Palace Museum in Beijing. The highest auction record for tea from these bushes was set in 2005, when 20g of this rarity sold for 208,000 yen. The Dà Hóng Pao rock tea available on the market today comes from the artificial propagation of plants that have retained the characteristics of the original trees.
The process of making rock tea
During processing, the tea leaves are oxidised to a significant degree – as much as 60%. The rocky tea is referred to as black oolong precisely because of this process, as well as the roasting that takes place in the subsequent production stages. The production of Dà Hóng Pao is based on 7 steps:
1) Harvesting – the tea leaves are harvested once a year, usually in May and June. One fresh bud with 2-3 leaves is picked.
2) Withering – the plucked tea leaves are spread out evenly in the sun to let the water evaporate with the help of its rays and the wind.
3) Cooling – after drying, the leaves are moved to a suitable room and cooled.
4) Preparation – this is the most important, time-consuming and complicated moment in the production of rock oolong tea. The leaves are shaken on a large bamboo sieve, which promotes their rolling and the oxidation of the polyphenols they contain. This treatment gives the tea the right aroma and flavour.
5) Stir-fry – there are two types of it: manual and mechanical. The temperature for manual stir-frying in a pot is 140-160°C. Workers turn over the leaves with their own hands clad in special gloves. The temperature in the mechanical frying pot is 220-260°C and does not require manual turning of the leaves.
6) Kneading – this can be done manually and mechanically. This stage of tea making gives the leaves a string shape.
7) Roasting – the leaves are placed in a large basket. They are then heated and dried, a process that takes hours.
Dà Hóng Pao is an artisanal tea, handcrafted according to traditional ways. This is one of the reasons why it fetches such high prices on the market.
Brewing of rock tea
The traditional way to brew rock tea is to use a purple clay teapot and water, preferably purified, at 100°C. Once boiled, it must be used immediately to bring out the proper properties of Dà Hóng Pao. Experts believe that the third and fourth brewing of the tea conveys its fullest flavour. Dà Hóng Pao’s dried tea is dark in colour, ranging from green to brown, and its leaves are curled and cord-like. The colour of the infusion is golden orange. Its taste is reminiscent of caramel or brown sugar. The tea leaves a sweetish aftertaste. It can be brewed several times.
- First brewing – 0,5 minute
- Second brewing – 1 minute
- Third brewing – 2 minutes
- Fourth brewing – 4 minutes
- Fifth brewing – 5 minutes
- Sixth brewing – 6 minutes
Health properties of rock tea
Dà Hóng Pao is a tea highly valued in China for its health-promoting properties. It is a source of many minerals, trace elements and vitamins: A, B, E, C and K. It also contains caffeine, theophylline, polyphenols and flavonoids, all of which have positive effects on the body. Rock tea is used for medicinal purposes such as:
- relieving fatigue,
- supporting blood circulation, strengthening blood vessels,
- reducing swelling,
- removing excess water from the body,
- relieving cough, diluting and removing lingering phlegm,
- maintaining normal cholesterol and blood sugar levels,
- reducing the negative effects of alcohol and smoking.
In addition, Dà Hóng Pao has cosmetic properties. When drunk regularly, it improves the condition of the skin and helps to lose weight. It is a source of antioxidants that fight free radicals and delay the ageing process. The tea is also used in the prevention of cancer and stroke. According to Japanese studies, it reduces stress levels, calms and relaxes. It also contains anti-allergic substances.