Famous Chinese Tea

A Beginner's Guide to Enjoying Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robes)


The Historical Significance of Da Hong Pao

In the history of tea, the tea produced in Wuyi Mountain was collectively referred to as Wuyi tea. Due to the unique geological conditions of "tea only grows in rocks, and without rocks, there is no tea," the Oolong tea produced in Wuyi Mountain is also known as "Wuyi Rock Tea." Wuyi tea had already become a finished product in the Tang Dynasty and was selected as a royal tribute in the Song Dynasty. In the Yuan Dynasty, an imperial tea garden was established in Wuyi Mountain specifically for producing tribute tea. From ancient times to the present, Wuyi Rock Tea has always been a enduring royal tribute.

Among the numerous tea tree varieties in Wuyi Mountain, Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) holds a special position. From the picking to the tea-making process, it is intricate. It is singled out from the famous Wuyi Rock Tea varieties and recognized as the leader among them (the foremost and acknowledged king of Wuyi tea). Therefore, it is honored as the "King of Rock Tea," "King of Wuyi Tea," "The Best Tea in the World," and so on.

For those who want to experience the flavor of the best loose leaf tea, especially the finest loose leaf Oolong tea, trying Da Hong Pao is a must. Of course, Chinese Oolong tea has a long history and a rich variety. In addition to Da Hong Pao, classic Oolong teas such as Tie Guanyin and Fenghuang Dancong are also worth tasting.

Why is it called Da Hong Pao?


According to legend, in the year 1385, during the Ming Dynasty's Hongwu reign, a scholar named Ding Xian was on his way to the capital for the imperial examination. He fell ill while passing through Wuyi and suffered unbearable abdominal pain. Fortunately, he encountered a monk at Tianxin Yongle Temple who brewed tea from his stored tea leaves and gave it to him. The illness immediately subsided.


After achieving the top score in the imperial examination, Ding Xian returned to express his gratitude to the monk. When asked about the origin of the tea leaves, he learned that the monk had taken off a big red robe, circled the tea bushes three times, and draped it over the tea trees. Hence, it was named "Da Hong Pao" (Big Red Robe). The top scholar used a tin can to collect the Da Hong Pao and brought it back to the capital. When he returned to the court, he coincidentally encountered the empress who was ill. Despite the efforts of many physicians, the empress's condition did not improve. Ding Xian presented the can of tea leaves, and after the empress drank it, her health gradually recovered. The emperor was delighted and awarded Ding Xian with a red robe, instructing him to personally go to Jiulongke and drape it over the tea tree as a sign of gratitude. At the same time, officials were dispatched to supervise the harvesting and production of tea leaves, ensuring that none were hidden.

Since then, Wuyi Rock Tea Da Hong Pao became an exclusive tribute tea for the imperial court, and the fame of Da Hong Pao spread among the people. Legend has it that every year, the officials sent by the court would wear big red robes, untie them, and hang them on the tea trees of the tribute tea. Therefore, it was called Da Hong Pao.

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The Historical Allusion of "Half the Country": Da Hong Pao as the Behind-the-Scenes Hero of Sino-American Diplomacy

As a tribute tea for successive royal families, Da Hong Pao naturally has a high value. However, many may not be aware that the six remaining mother trees of Da Hong Pao on the rock wall of Tianxin Yan Jiulong Cave once shouldered the important responsibility of being a link in the history of Sino-American diplomacy.

In 1972, during the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, then-US President Richard Nixon visited China. Chairman Mao Zedong presented him with four liang (about 160 grams) of Da Hong Pao as a gift. It is said that after receiving the gift, Nixon was not very pleased, feeling that the gift was somewhat stingy. Premier Zhou Enlai, who was present at the time, noticed Nixon's mood and approached him, saying, "The Chairman has given you half the country." Nixon, puzzled, became even more confused. Premier Zhou Enlai pointed to the Da Hong Pao and explained, "Da Hong Pao from Wuyi Mountain is a tribute tea to the royal family of China throughout history. The annual output is less than one jin (500 grams). The Chairman has given you four liang, which is 'half the country.' " Upon hearing this, President Nixon immediately burst into laughter.

The historical allusion to Da Hong Pao as "half the country" witnessed the "ice-breaking journey" of Sino-American relations. It has far surpassed the meaning of a gift and serves as a special medium conveying political significance and cultural influence beyond its intrinsic value. This tale of great power diplomacy is enough to show that Da Hong Pao is no ordinary tea; it is a source of pride for the Chinese nation.


Classification of Da Hong Pao


Da Hong Pao can be divided into Mother Tree Da Hong Pao, Purebred Da Hong Pao, and Commercial Da Hong Pao.

1 Mother Tree Da Hong Pao

Mother Tree Da Hong Pao refers to the mother trees of Da Hong Pao that grow on the rock walls of Jiulong Cave in Wuyi Mountain, with six existing tea trees. Currently, Mother Tree Da Hong Pao has ceased to be harvested, making it a rare and exceptional variety.

2 Purebred Da Hong Pao

This type is a variety formed through the single and asexual reproduction cultivation of a specific lineage from the mother tree. The recognized variety of purebred Da Hong Pao is Qidan, so purebred Da Hong Pao is essentially Wuyi Rock Tea made from the purebred Qidan tea tree. Due to its limited production, it is priced at a premium.

3 Commercial Da Hong Pao

This is the most widely circulated and common Da Hong Pao in the current market. It is a blend of two or more Wuyi Rock Teas, typically with a base of cinnamon and narcissus, creating a Commercial Da Hong Pao with the characteristic rock essence and floral fragrance.

Unique Flavor Characteristics of Da Hong Pao


Currently, Mother Tree Da Hong Pao is prohibited from being harvested. Therefore, the Da Hong Pao available in the market falls into two categories: Qidan and blended Da Hong Pao, each with distinct flavor characteristics.

1 Qidan - Purebred Da Hong Pao

According to the "Chinese Tea Varieties Chronicle," Da Hong Pao is described as one of Wuyi's traditional five precious tea varieties, belonging to the asexual reproduction series. When crafted into Oolong tea, it exhibits exceptional quality, with tightly rolled leaves, a lustrous green-brown color, a rich and fragrant aroma reminiscent of osmanthus flowers, a mellow and sweet taste with lingering aftertaste, prominent rock essence, and a unique fragrance. These characteristics define the unique flavor of purebred Da Hong Pao.

2 Blended Da Hong Pao

The Da Hong Pao available in the market is often a blend, also known as "Commercial Da Hong Pao." Commercial Da Hong Pao was created to promote Wuyi Rock Tea by combining different varieties of rock tea, complementing each other's strengths. Blending does not necessarily indicate a decrease in quality; for example, combining tea with a good aroma and tea with a good taste enhances both the aroma and taste, resulting in a higher-quality product. iTeaworld offers a cost-effective blend of Commercial Da Hong Pao, allowing you to easily experience the classic flavor characteristics of Da Hong Pao.

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The key to blending Da Hong Pao is to achieve a uniform taste without discerning the characteristics of individual varieties. Additionally, it is crucial to reflect the unique characteristics of Wuyi Rock Tea, with a unified aroma, rich taste, delicate and lingering fragrance, and a good aftertaste.

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