Yancha is a tea term that I wondered about for a long time before I knew what it was. Simply put, the name yancha translates as rock tea and it refers to oolong teas produced in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province in China. The soil in this region is very rocky and the best quality teas are grown high up on cliffs. This imparts a mineral taste to the finished tea that is sometimes called yanyun, or rock rhyme.
Da Hong Pao is arguably the most well-known variety of yancha. You’ve surely seen news articles about this tea being worth more than its weight in gold. Don’t let that price tag stop you, there are lots of other varieties to explore. My personal favorite is Rou Gui. I just love its subtle spicy note. Sampling a few different kinds is great way to better understand the region and its teas.
Wuyi Oolong Varieties
|Bai Xian||Eight Immortals|
|Bai Ji Guan||White Cockscomb|
|Da Hong Pao||Big Red Robe|
|Huang Guan Yin||Yellow Goddess of Mercy|
|Rou Gui||Cassia Bark|
|Shui Jin Gui||Golden Water Turtle|
|Shui Xian||Water Sprite|
|Tie Luo Han||Iron Arhat|
|Qi Lan||Rare Orchid|
True Cliff vs Half Cliff
Zheng Yan refers to teas that are grown within the national preserve. This area is carefully protected and no pesticides are allowed within its borders. The soil here is considerably rockier, making it rich in minerals. You’ll often see these teas called “true cliff”.
“Half cliff” teas are called Ban Yan. They are less desirable because they are grown outside of the innermost area of Wuyi. The mineral quality will be less noticeable. I’ve found that they also don’t last for as many infusions as true cliff teas. On the plus side, they are usually less expensive.
Yancha is a perfect example of the diversity of the oolong category. Higher oxidation and a charcoal roast give the tea a deeper, darker taste than what you might expect. They can still offer surprising floral notes and great complexity underneath all of that.
Do you have a favorite kind of yancha? Let me know about it in the comments below!
Hi Nicole, nice brief overview. I must say (well, perhaps not “must” but I’l say is anyway) that I’ve never liked the Translation of 大紅袍 as “Big Red Robe” for the Chinese would never have chosen such a clunky name. If you read the first two characters as “Dahong” rather than “Da Hong” you get the far more elegant (and historically accurate, I think) translation “Scarlet Robe.” I realize I am spitting into the wind in this but I have lots of tissues.
By the way, I find that I generally prefer “Shui Jin Gui.”
Thanks, David! I do tend to agree with you but “big robe” seems to have been the one that has stuck. Some vendors have started using Scarlet Robe to refer to teas that are not as heavily roasted, adding even further to the confusion.
Yancha is something I’m not very familiar with – I know of a store in Singapore that specialises in it, but the only yancha I have right now is a shui xian. Interestingly, when I was in Hong Kong, the people there seemed to equate shui xian with rou gui. I wonder why…
That is interesting.I think I’ve heard that most of the Wuyi varieties originated from Shui Xian so they might be related in some way.
I wonder how fast tea plants grow in this rocky soil? Certainly there are good minerals to be had but probably not much organic matter. Slower growth may be part of the secret to this tea’s profile.
I’d imagine that they grow pretty slowly. The pictures I have seen of tea plants from this area are quite small compared to other regions.
Fantastic overview, Nicole! Thanks! Haven’t enjoyed any of these oolongs yet but hopefully soon!