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Da Hong Pao China tea (Big Red Robe tea)


One of China's most treasured teas, this Wuyi rock tea has the distinction of being one of the most expensive teas sold in auction history.

Originally there were just four bushes growing out of the rocks, 2 of which still survive today and are still harvested. Such was the quality of the tea that a grateful emperor provided big red robes to clothe the bushes in inclement weather, hence the tea's other name --- Big Red Robe tea.

Da Hong Pao is the king of the Famous Five Rock Teas in the Wu Yi Mountain of China. This tea is legendary. Records of its existence date as far back as the early 18th century (Dao Guang Era). During Qing Dynasty, Da Hong Pao was entitled "King of Tea". In 1998, the Chinese government put it up for sale for the first time and was sold to a group of auctioneers for almost $900,000.

The tea is oxidised for a sweet aromatic delivery. During infusion there is a coffee-like fragrance. Its exceptionally strong character has a hint of black coffee replaced by a sweet pleasant fruity aftertaste. Multiple infusions continue to offer Oolong flavour with a silky smooth aftertaste.

Possibly the most famous tea from the Wuyi Mountains, from which hundreds of famous and popular teas originate, Da Hong Pao is one of the or Four Great (Tea) Bushes. It is certainly the most expensive tea auctioned, as 20gm of the tea leaves can be sold for US$25,000. Yes, twenty-five thousand dollars. These are of course from the first generation bushes, of which there were only four, although the name "Da Hong Pao" can be used for tea leaves made from bushes which are as far as four generations removed from the original ones. Subsequent generations can be given the name of "Xiao Hong Pao"  or "The Little Red Robes", but these teas are much rarer.

There are a number of legends and stories about this tea and why it is so named. One of the more eccentric ones I have heard is that imperially appointed monkeys were hired to pluck leaves from the old, tall tea trees, and were given red robes to wear. Another pointed back to a Ming dynasty scholar who resided near where these tea trees were planted, and being too poor to buy his own tea, would pluck leaves from these trees to make his own. After gaining scholarly honours in the Imperial Examinations, the scholar rode home in glory, wearing a red robe that designated his status as an Imperial Scholar. In gratitude to the tea trees, he draped his red robe on them, and thusly the tea was named.

Another legend goes further back, to the Tang dynasty, where an emperor, grateful for the tea’s restorative powers that saved his mother the dowager empress, bestowed red robes upon the tea trees.

The taste of a Da Hong Pao may vary, since the tea trees are in many different places, planted in different kinds of soil. However, a good Da Hong Pao should not be over-roasted, which is a common mistake. Upon infusion, the leaves should unfurl somewhat and become supple. If they remain stiff and dry-looking, the leaves have been over-roasted. The colour of the tea should be fairly dark brown, with a tinge of orange or red. It should have a robust, earthy scent, and the taste should have a tinge of bitterness but sweetness should follow shortly after.

Royal Red Robe is as oxidized as Oolong ever is. At 80% oxidation, it looks like a black tea, only the leaves are HUGE, much larger than 98% of the black tea on the market. The Royal Red Robe tea plant is pruned to a single trunk and the leaves are plucked at a much larger size than almost any other tea of any style. Oolong teas are generally plucked from particular cultivars that are conducive to the Oolong being processed. Royal Red Robe Oolong is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Royal Red Robe Oolong has a clear, fresh taste somewhat reminiscent of black or white tea, but with the lush mouthfeel that reminds the drinker that it can only be an exceptional Oolong.

Royal Red Robe Oolong is available in limited quantities, so is a bit more expensive than some teas; however, on a per-cup basis it is far less money than a cup of Salada costs in a diner.

Full bodied tea with a sweet aftertaste that is felt in your throat before the back of your tongue. After a few small Gong Fu cups, the pleasant floral fragrance remains in your mouth, lingering for a good few minutes. Not many tea has the ability to do this.

Traditional looking Oolong tea. Dark and slightly curled tea leaves.

Wu Yi Shan, Fujian Province

Harvest Period:
Spring '09

So treat yourself to one of life's finest Oolong teas and drink up!

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