Blog 55: The Secret of “Rock Essence and Floral Aroma”

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

If you’ve been following this blog regularly, you might have noticed that when talking about tea, we try our best to be as objective as possible. We understand that the aroma and the flavor of a tea can be subjective, and many professional and amateur tea reviewers tend to focus more on their own personal feelings. While this type of “reviews” might be appealing to many tea lovers, it is not scientific or reliable because there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes. That’s why in this blog, we discuss tea from the perspectives of tea makers and tea researchers. Today, let’s talk about tea from a geologic perspective.



If you go to your local tea store and ask “why is this tea a good tea?”, you’d probably get a very vague or unconvincing answer. To be fair, this seemingly simple question is actually difficult. Why is this a good tea? Why this location, for example Wuyi mountains, can produce good tea? If you claim this is a good tea, what is your basis? If you claim the soil and the climate of the growing environment is good, how so? What soil? What temperature? What humidity? What sunlight condition? What wind direction? How much wind and rain do tea plants get annually? What kind of techniques do you use when making tea? Why are those techniques better?


However, even though these questions are demanding, tea store owners and tea reviewers should be able to answer them. After all, it is their job to know the answers.


For example, many tea lovers value “rock essence and floral aroma” (Chinese: 岩骨花香, also called Yanyun/岩韵) in Wuyi oolong, but many of them struggle to describe the source of this unique Wuyi oolong feature. To explain “the rock essence and the floral aroma”, we must understand the geologic features of the Wuyi mountain area.


A satellite picture of the Wuyi mountain area

(Above is a satellite picture of the Wuyi mountain area. Number 1 marks the Wuyi Mountain natural preserve; number 2 marks the “Nine Bend River” upstream preservation; number 3 marks the Wuyi mountain scenic area. All green parts indicate vegetative cover; pink parts indicate towns and cities; red parts mark bare rocks and cliffs; blue parts indicate river systems. )


Wuyi oolong is also called Yancha (Chinese: 岩茶, meaning: rock tea). Tea lovers who visited the Wuyi mountains would know that Wuyi oolong mother plants actually grow in the narrow rock cracks. This is where Yancha got its name from. Among all Wuyi oolong producing areas, there are 7 locations that produce the best fresh leaves (牛栏坑/慧苑坑/倒水坑/流香涧/悟源涧/九龙巢/竹巢). These locations are famous because Wuyi oolong made with fresh leaves from these 7 locations have a better “rock essence and floral aroma”. But why?


To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at their geologic environment. The whole Wuyi mountain area has a unique landform called the “Danxia Landform”. Danxia Landform has been found in southeast, southwest and northwest China. It consists of a red bed characterized by steep cliffs. The Wuyi mountain area is one of the most famous place featuring Danxia Landform.


A one-rock mountain in Wuyi mountains featuring Danxia Landform

After a long time of natural erosion, the Wuyi mountain area is full of mountains consist of large and steep rocks. Mountains that were thicker than a thousand feet were eroded and separated into multiple cliffs. The natural erosion also provides unique “earth” for tea plants. The “earth” in Wuyi oolong tea producing areas consists of conglomerate and red gritstone with a high content of quarts. This rough earth has an excellent water permeability. The rain water would slowly infiltrate different layers of stones and extract minerals and micro-elements from the stones. This is why tea plants in the Wuyi mountain area can survive on the cliffs.


In other words, despite infertile or nearly nonexistent soil, abundant and nutritious water supply provides the necessarily nutrients to tea plants. Together with other micro-climates, Wuyi oolong can produce its special “rock essence and floral aroma”. Locations that have steep cliffs and a healthy water supply, such as the 7 locations mentioned above, generally produce a even better “rock essence and floral aroma”.


It is true that tea-drinking is a personal experience. But the world of tea and tea-making is established on concrete facts. Even a concept like “the rock essence and the floral aroma” has its scientific explanation. We hope this blog can help better understand with a geologic perspective.


I hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at zhang@valleybrooktea.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!


*This is blog is inspire by a research on Man and the Biosphere Magazine publish by The Chinese National Committee for Man and the Biosphere. For more information about the publication (in Chinese), please contact us at zhang@valleybrooktea.com