Blog 97: The Naming of Tea Mountain Fields (Wuyi Oolong/Yancha)
The naming of premium teas often carries the name of the tea-producing region. For example, the famous Wuyi oolong tea (or Yancha/武夷岩茶) is the oolong tea from the Wuyi region in northern Fujian Province. This naming system is very similar to the naming of French wine, which commonly includes the name of the wine-producing region.
Most wine stores categorize wines by regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. But a wine lover would tell you that these “big names” cannot guarantee quality because wine regions are such big areas mixed with high-priced wine regions and cheap neighboring regions.
Tea producing regions are the same. Within the same region, there’re different tiers of tea mountain fields. Luckily, in Wuyi mountains’ case, tea mountain fields are named after their natural terrain features.
Today, let’s talk about 7 common names for premium tea mountain fields (山场) in Wuyi mountains.
1. Keng (坑)
Niu Lan Keng (cattle pen pit/牛栏坑)
Dao Shui Keng (倒水坑)
Hui Yuan Keng (慧苑坑)
Da Keng Kou (大坑口)
Literally, a Keng means a concave ground. It usually has only one or two exits.
Tea mountain fields that named after “Keng” are typically narrow, crooked valleys with moderate elevation differences. Because a Keng doesn’t have one large flat field, tea plants are scattered in random places.
Niu Lan Keng is the most renowned premium tea-producing location. A pound of last year’s authentic Niu Lan Keng Rou Gui averaged close to $3,000.
2. Jian (涧)
Wu Yuan Jian (悟源涧)
Liu Xiang Jian (流香涧)
Zhang Tang Jian (章堂涧)
A Jian refers to the small water stream in between two adjacent mountains. Because of Wuyi mountains’ unique landform (please see Blog 55 and Blog 56 for details), there are quite some weathered sedimentary rocks piled up along the water stream.
In a Jian, the abundant water supply provides tea plants with a humid growing environment. Sunlight is never too strong here. In fact, mountains on the side can shield tea plants from direct sunlight even in the most scorching summer.
3. Ke (窠)
Jiu Long Ke (九龙窠)
Zhu Ke (竹窠)
Yan Zi Ke (燕子窠)
Feng Shu Ke (枫树窠)
Ke originally means the burrow or nest of insects, birds and small animals.
The terrain characteristics of a Ke is very similar to a Keng. However, a Ke is smaller and more diverse. Some Ke have water streams, and some are in cool and humid places.
Jiu Long Ke is the birthplace of Da Hong Pao mother plants. Being a famous tourism destination, Jiu Long Ke is one of few places in Wuyi mountains where all tea lovers can visit.
4. Yan (岩)
Ma Tou Yan (horse head rock/马头岩)
Bi Shi Yan (碧石岩)
Fo Guo Yan (佛国岩)
A “Yan” means a rock. It’s essentially why Wuyi oolong is also called “Yan-Cha” or “Rock Tea”. It represents the most iconic terrain in Wuyi mountains. Tea fields named after “Yan” normally have fertile soils and plenty of sunlight. Tea plants grow here can acquire and generate plenty fragrance essences.
Rou Gui from Ma Tou Yan is on an equal footing with Niu Lan Keng’s. Enjoying a bag of “Ma Tou Yan” Rou Gui is absolutely an once in a lifetime luxury.
5. Dong (洞)
Gui Dong (ghost cave/鬼洞)
Shui Lian Dong (水帘洞)
Man Tuo Dong (曼陀洞)
Yu Hua Dong (玉华洞)
In Chinese, Dong usually means a “hole”. But here in tea mountains, Dong actually means caves. Caves have their own small climates because the water flow and the air flow differ from other “open environments”. Caves can maintain a relatively constant temperature. Tea plants also enjoy a shady and cool environment in caves.
Despite its seemingly scary name, Gui Dong (ghost cave) produces one of the best Iron Luo-Han. Gui Dong’s small production makes its Iron Luo-Han a rare find.
6. Feng (峰)
Yu Zhu Feng (玉柱峰)
San Yang Feng (三仰峰)
Lian Hua Feng (莲花峰)
Ma Zhen Feng (马枕峰)
Man Ting Feng (幔亭峰)
Feng means mountain peak. In tea-making, Feng generally refers to the entire mountain. Depending on where exactly tea plants grow, teas from a “Feng” taste differently. If tea plants grow on the top of the hill, teas would have a more noticeable aroma but a weaker tea soup; if tea plants grow on mountainsides, teas would have a more balanced aroma and taste; if tea plants grow on the foot on the hill, teas would taste thicker but smell more delicate.
7. Wo (窝)
Yun Wo (云窝)
It’s not easy to find a direct translation for “Wo”. The literal meaning of “Wo” is a nest. But in tea-making, Wo means a “sunken ground”. This might sound similar to a “Keng”. Nevertheless, a “Keng” has at least one or two entry points, but a “Wo” is surrounded by mountains. If we look from the mountain top, it’s like a giant “nest” sits below.
A “Wo” terrain can greatly protect tea plants from natural disasters such as spring frostbites. In extreme weather, tea plants inside a “Wo” are guarded by mountains. No hard winds can blow through, and no cold air can infiltrate.
Because of Wo’s protection, tea plants can freely grow without natural or human interference. Teas from a Wo have one of the most healthy fresh leaves.
In general, teas from “Keng/坑”, “Jian/涧”, “Ke/窠”, “Wo/窝”, and “Dong/洞” have thicker tea soups; teas from “Feng/峰” and “Yan/岩” have stronger and more layers of aromas.
This is the result of the transformation and the accumulation of sunlight, as well as the development and the accumulation of multiple fragrance essences.
We hope this blog can help you have a better understanding of the tea plant growing environment in Wuyi mountains. Different tea mountains fields have their own unique terrain features. This is why teas from different small environments smell and taste differently.
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