HISTORY AND STORY
The name “Da Hong Pao” (or “Big Red Robe” in English) is alleged to have come from a few different stories; some stories that say its tea bushes were so revered that they were cloaked in red robes by imperial officials, while others simply claim the name was a poetic description for the color of local tea bushes when dusk light is cast through their newly grown leaves.
Whatever the case, for at least the last century, the characters “Da Hong Pao” have been carved in rock beside a cliff perched garden in Wuyi Mountain. The few bushes in this tiny garden are the ancestral material for the modern Da Hong Pao. Through the careful reproduction, the most hearty and flavorful of these bushes, known as “Qi Dan” began to be used as the basis for the blend that is known as commodity Da Hong Pao, starting in 1985. The yield of this bush is low, however, and it is now common for commodity Da Hong Pao to be a blend of Qi Dan and other Wuyi cultivars. It is judged that a Da Hong Pao blend should be greater than the sum of its parts, exhibiting no single character for any one bush, but rather layers of complex and pleasing flavors.
In a Qing Dynasty record of Wu Yi tea varieties, Lu Ting Chan wrote that there were more than 500 hundred named varieties. In recent years, a survey was conducted to find living examples of these antique varieties. Only 156 examples remain. The high yielding and robust Rou Gui and Shui Xian cultivars, through government promotions in the late 1970’s, replaced these old bushes. Today still these two cultivars dominate and are frequently used in blending.
WHY IT IS SO SPECIAL?
For this tea, the tea masters have used the most traditional way of roasting. They used only the heat of local charcoal to dry the leaves over multiple roastings, each roasting lasting for eight to twelve hours at a time. These alternating periods of roasting and resting make for a very long production cycle. This tea is picked in early May and only finishes production in the end of August. Time consuming traditional roasting technique increases the complexity and depth of the tea’s flavor, which will endure for years in storage.