Da Hong Pao is a legendary tea grown in China’s scenic Wuyi Mountains.
According to legend, nine evil dragons were causing havoc, ruining crops and taking lives. A god confronted the menace and after a great battle, in which the forces of good and evil were pitted against each other, killed the dragons one by one. Where their bodies fell, tall peaks formed and the area became known as the “Dragon’s Nest”. To celebrate this victory, high on a ridge above the winding river the god planted three tea bushes.
The head monk at the nearby monastery, Tie Hua, was too old to climb up to the bushes, so he sent his pet monkey up there instead. It picked two leaves and a bud, with which Tie Hua made tea and served it to a venerable scholar staying with him who suffered from ague. The scholar was cured and took some of the tea with him to the imperial court, where the empress was sick. She too got better and the emperor ordered that leaves from every new crop should always be sent north to Peking. He also sent to the monastery a gift of a large red silk covering to protect the roots of the three bushes from frost. Ever since the tea has been called Da Hong Pao, “Big Red Robe”.
The Wuyi region in Fujian province produces a number of well-known teas, including Lapsang souchong and Da Hong Pao. Tea grown in this mineral-rich soil is highly prized. Tea made from the leaves of older bushes is particularly expensive and limited in quantity. Da Hong Pao, collected from what are said to be the original bushes of its variety, is among the most expensive teas in the world, and more valuable by weight than gold. In 2002, a wealthy purchaser paid almost $28,000 for just 20g of Da Hong Pao tea. Fortunately, there are less rare and less expensive versions available.
Chinese oolong teas use leaves picked deep within the rocky Wuyi Mountains. The teas are generally dark and are typically twisted in thin strips. They are slow roasted over charcoal and have a fragrant, characteristically smoky flavour. Like an Islay malt whisky.
Chio Jen, a poet of China’s Tang period, has this to say:
“A friend presented me
With tender leaves of Oolong tea,
For which I chose a kettle
Of ivory-mounted gold,
A mixing-bowl of snow-white earth.
With its clear bright froth and fragrance,
It was like the nectar of Immortals.
The first bowl washed the cobwebs from my mind –
The whole world seemed to sparkle.
A second cleansed my spirit
Like purifying showers of rain,
A third and I was one of the Immortals –
What need now for austerities
To purge our human sorrows?
Worldly people, by going in for wine,
Sadly deceive themselves.
For now I know the Way of Tea is real.”