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Yum cha: Rock stars

Vivian Mak

 

The Wuyi Mountains, in Fujian province, are the source of a distinctive group of oolong teas that reflect the wonders of nature.

The mountains were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1999, and their sheer, rocky cliffs and creases - where the soil is thin but enriched with water from winding rivers - are home to ancient trees that are heavily shaded by clouds and mist. Due to these conditions and the soil's rich mineral content, teas produced from these trees have a distinctive "rock" or "yan" flavour and aftertaste.

Of all the yan cha found in the Wuyi Mountains, da hung pao (big red robe) is the most sought-after. According to legend, the mother of a Ming dynasty emperor was cured of an illness by drinking this tea, after which the emperor sent great red robes to crown the four bushes from which the leaves had been picked. Three of these original bushes still stand here and, as you might expect, tea produced from them is enormously expensive.

The leaves of premium da hung pao are big and the tea produces a sweet and floral aroma, with a charcoal-y note. It is round and full-bodied, with a lingering aftertaste.

If you want to enjoy rock teas on a regular (and more affordable) basis, consider shui xian, which is served in most dim sum restaurants. A good shui xin should have a warm and charcoal-y aroma and body. I especially like to pair this tea with cha siu bao (barbecued-pork buns), as it enhances the flavour of the meat.

Another Wuyi tea is particularly prized by Westerners: lapsang souchong. During the Ming dynasty, it was named "bohea", which means "black tea", to differentiate it from green tea. Its special smoky aroma came about by accident. In the 17th century, the Wuyi Mountains were invaded by the Qing army. Villagers - in a hurry to dry their tea before they fled - only had pine wood (considered a bad wood because of the strong odour it imparts) to hand for baking it with. They didn't think much of the results, but Dutch traders passing through loved it and subsequently introduced it to the world.

No matter which Wuyi teas you are drinking, they will warm the body and aid digestion, which makes them suitable for those with cold feet or chilly hands.

 

Vivian Mak is the founder and owner of the MingCha tea company www.mingcha.com

 

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