Da Hong Pao aka Big Red Robe Oolong is one of the most famous and expensive teas on the market. This spring-harvested Wuyi Mountain oolong is popularly regarded as the ‘King of Tea’. Its characteristic combination of one bud and three leaves is charcoal roasted and oxidized for a unique balance of flavors.
The Wuyi Mountain region in the northern part of China’s Fujian Province holds a special place in the hearts of tea drinkers worldwide. This is where the Da Hong Pao Wuyi Mountain oolongs are produced. These darker oolongs are grown in very limited quantities on rocky, mineral-rich terrain, thus acquiring the name rock tea (yan cha). Wuyi oolongs are traditionally well-fermented and charcoal fire-finished.
Why is Da Hong Pao tea so expensive?
Da Hong Pao or Wuyi Oolongs are often listed among the most expensive teas on the market. But while it’s true that the finest Da Hong Pao teas can cost thousands of dollars a pot, there are plenty of affordable variants that you can find online. Decent Wuyi oolongs can be purchased for around $50 a pound. If you’re wondering what the hype around these teas is all about, the answer lies in their source. The karst landscapes of Wuyi Shan are replete with minerals, which in turn are delivered to the soil by a range of mountain streams and waterfalls. These minerals impart a distinctive, hearty flavor to Wuyi oolongs – a flavor that only gets better with time. Antique Da Hong Pao teas are extremely rare and essentially priceless today, because there are hardly original tea trees left.
Tasting notes and reviews
Da Hong Pao oolong is heavily fired, rich, full-bodied, honeyed, with mineral notes and light smoke undertones. Its texture is interesting, “prickly and roasty on the tip and sides of the tongue” and “sweet and smooth at the back of the sip”. Its aroma “starts out earthy and musky”, slowly softens to a “dark fruit/malt flavor”, and “develops a taste of nori” by the third or fourth steeping. Many Da Hong Pao drinkers identify “bitter chocolate and seaweed” in its initial fragrance, which slowly mellows into a “fruity aroma like grape or plum”.
Like other premium Wuyi Mountain oolongs, the fragrance and flavor of good quality Da Hong Pao will be smooth and gentle – never too strong, sharp or burnt. This serves as evidence that the tea has been correctly baked or charcoal-fired. For the same reason, the tea leaves shouldn’t be too green (which suggests inadequate oxidization). The dry tea leaves should also be free from any unpleasant moldy smells. Another characterizing feature of premium Da Hong Pao is its ability to last through more than 3 infusions, gradually evolving in flavor and aroma. If what you smell and taste is weak, flat and unchanging, it’s probably not the real thing.