Blog 60: Understand Da Hong Pao
Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In the world of tea, the concept of “Da Hong Pao” (Chinese: 大红袍, the literal meaning is “big red robe”), a type of Wuyi oolong, is probably the most confusing of all. To many casual tea drinkers, the name Da Hong Pao is interchangeable with “Wuyi oolong”. Some tea businesses in the U.S. even sell all Wuyi oolong, such as Rou Gui and Shui Xian, under the name “Da Hong Pao”. However, they’re wrong. Da Hong Pao belongs to the Wuyi oolong family. Today, let’s talk about why Da Hong Pao is so confusing.
The misunderstanding of Da Hong Pao is the result of a combination of history, stories, tea culture and business marketing. The “Da Hong Pao” that tea drinkers talk about usually falls into 3 categories: a brand, a tea variety and tea products. The “Da Hong Pao” brand is registered by the local city-level government. Imagine what would happen is a private French winemaker can own the trademark “Champagne”. It’d disrupt the market. It’s necessary to protect the identity of the place of origin of this tea. Da Hong Pao as a tea variety is recognized by Fujian Province government since 2012. Finally, Da Hong Pao as tea products is the real puzzling part. There are “Mother Tree Da Hong Pao”, “Pure Da Hong Pao” and “Commercial Da Hong Pao” products including “Single-variety Da Hong Pao” and “Da Hong Pao Blends” (the respective names in Chinese are: 母树大红袍/纯种大红袍/商品大红袍: 纯料大红袍/拼配大红袍). The “Da Hong Pao” product that most tea lovers get to drink is “Da Hong Pao Blend”.
There are a total of 6 Da Hong Pao mother trees. They are located in a now tourist area called “Tian Xin Yan” (Chinese: 天心岩, meaning: Tian Xin Rock). The harvest of these 6 mother trees have been halted since 2006. The mother trees are now studied and managed by local authorities. Tea leaves harvested from mother trees are a national treasure. Only the most senior and respected tea makers are allowed to process them into tea. Finalized tea normally becomes national gifts to foreign head of states. Notable recipients include U.S. president Nixon. This type of tea have never and will never appear on the market.
Pure Da Hong Pao is a concept that refers to tea made with fresh leaves harvested from Da Hong Pao plants. The 6 mother trees actually belong to 3 types of tea plants: Bei Dou(北斗), Qi Dan(奇丹) and Que She(雀舌, pronunciation similar to: tsue sher). There have been studies of the vegetative propagation since 20th century, but the plantation of these 3 varieties only started since late 1990s. Because of the short history of mass plantation, there aren’t many selling points for these teas. Thus, there are hardly any “Pure Da Hong Pao” products.
A “Single-variety Da Hong Pao” is made from fresh leaves of one of the varieties mentioned above. This type of tea keeps the most original characteristics of the variety. It’s a great reference for researches, but not good enough for the market. This is why we have “Da Hong Pao Blends”. And it is what most tea lovers get to drink.
Despite there’s a “blend” in its name, a Da Hong Pao Blend is probably not what you think it is. Unlike herbal products that would blend flowers, leaves and spices together, a Da Hong Pao Blend would only blend Wuyi oolong tea leaves.
The blending of Da Hong Pao is actually an advanced technique. In fact, a blend master is just as crucial as a tea maker. Blending Da Hong Pao isn’t just putting different tea leaves together. The process requires a profound understanding of the characters of different teas and how to achieve an expected flavor and aroma by highlighting some characters of a tea.
In our next blog (coming Monday, Oct 15, 2018), we’ll continue this topic and talk about how we make a Da Hong Pao Blend product.
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