Previous in series: Oolong (Wu-lung)
Long before Europeans had been there or even had any clear notion of just where it was, Fujiian’s Wuyi was known to the English-speaking world as Bohea, the earthly source of heavenly teas unlike any any others China made. America’s greatest scholar of tea history, Dr. Robert Gardella, traces to the 1500s the perfecting (not origin) of black and oolong tea to Buddhist and Taoist religious communities in these mountains, with all their improbable peaks and romantic temples. Wuyi’s most legendary oolong is Yancha or “cliff tea,” which is grown on cliffs and has given rise to the myth of “monkey-picked” teas, which merchants – I might mention my distinguished teacher Roy Fong – perpetuate still. Yancha is so rare today monkeys might as well pick it, but the name “monkey-picked” is generally reserved for whatever oolong or Ti Quan Yin a tea maker takes most pride in. And great Wuyi oolongs exist not only in legend.
Yielding perhaps a pound of finished tea annually are the three surviving shrubs of Da Hong Pao, the famous Big Red Robe. A Ming dynasty mandarin, attributing his survival to its curative powers, made this oolong famous by draping his scarlet official’s robe of high office over the bushes and kowtowing before them. These ancient plants are known to be centuries old. Even if its name is no longer synonymous with oolong, Wuyi, or Bohea, has played a major role in tea history East and West: one taste tells why.
Read next: Tieh Kuan Yin (Ti Quan Yin)