Yancha: Exploring the Unique Tea of Wuyi Mountain

Tea lovers around the world appreciate the warm, roasted notes of Wuyi Mountain tea, also known as yancha, which boasts an unforgettable Yan Yun flavor. Although the Wuyi Mountains are a relatively new growing region in the vast history of tea, they continue to produce mesmerizing tea that enthusiasts can’t stop talking about. In this article, we will dive deeper into the various growing regions within Wuyi Shan itself.

Image: Wuyi mountain

What is Yancha?

Yancha is a category of tea, either oolong or hong cha, that grows on Wuyi Mountain in Fujian Province, China. Wuyi Oolong, in particular, is famous for its unique taste and is also known as yancha, Wuyi rock tea, or cliff tea. Da Hong Pao and Lapsang Souchong, the forefather of all black tea, are the most famous Wuyi Mountain teas, and the creation legends of oolong can also be traced back to Wuyi Mountain. The Wuyi area has been an important historical center of tea production since the mid-17th century and continues to be so.

Despite not having incredibly high mountain peaks, the Wuyi Mountains are constantly shrouded in fog and mist. In the afternoon, the sun shines through the light mist, creating dancing rainbows around the tea bushes. The moisture settles on the rocky sides of the mountain slopes and then trickles down to the roots of the tea plants, enriching them with minerals. As a result, the unique Yan Yun (“rock rhyme”) flavor for which Wuyi oolong teas are famous is born.

What makes Yancha special?

What makes yancha special is the unique terroir, with steep slopes and sharp mountain peaks covering the area. The result is a relatively small amount of tea bushes that have to push to survive. The mineral content of the mountains also adds a unique “rocky” taste to the teas produced there, which the tea world highly favors.

As far as production goes, Wuyi cha tends to lean on the darker side. This is evident in the dark, heavily oxidized and baked oolongs and hong cha (black tea). Wuyi oolongs have a heavy roast with robust flavors, and farmers always twist the teas into thin strips rather than rolling them into tight balls like oolongs from other areas.

While some yancha can be expensive, most teas from the Wuyi Mountains are incredibly delicious and memorable while remaining affordable. When trying a Wuyi Mountain tea, you will notice that the rocky and mineral profiles are perfectly balanced with the sweet and floral notes, making it an ideal cup of yancha.

Wuyi Oolong Tea History

During the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century, the Chinese Emperor was exclusively drinking compressed tea cakes that were grown and produced in Fujian tea gardens. However, producing tea cakes was labor-intensive and expensive. When the Emperor demanded that his tea come in loose leaf form, the tea industry of Fujian Province faced a significant challenge.

As a result, smaller tea farms started emerging in the Wuyi Mountains, owned and tended to mostly by Taoist and Buddhist monks. They discovered that letting the tea lightly oxidize before firing it produced a new, darker, and flavorful type of tea called Oolong.

What Is Yan Yun?

“Yan Yun,” which poetically translates to “Rock Rhyme,” is a term used by tea enthusiasts to describe the flavor profiles of some of the most exquisite yancha.

Popular Types and Taste Profiles

Here are the most popular types of Wuyi cha alongside their taste profiles:

Wuyi Oolong:

  • Da Hong Pao: Sweet, mineral, roasted, thick, and smooth
  • Tie Luo Han: Sweet, rich, and fragrant
  • Bei Dou: Sweet, fruity, deep, and roasted
  • Shui Jing Gui: Sweet, fruity, floral, and roasted
  • Bai Ji Guan: Sweet, mellow, and light
  • Rou Gui: Fragrant with prominent cinnamon notes
  • Shui Xian: Roasted, nutty, and mineral

Hong Cha:

  • Lapsang Souchong: Sweet and fruity tea. Today, there are two types of this tea: one with strong campfire notes and one without.
  • Jin Jun Mei: The same as Lapsang Souchong but exclusively made of fresh buds. Jin Jun Mei (“Beauty’s Golden Eyebrow”) is the tea responsible for the rapid rise of the popularity of hong cha in China itself.

The Regions of the Wuyi Mountains

Zheng Yan

The Wuyi Mountains’ Zheng Yan area, which translates to “original rock,” was designated a World Heritage Reserve by the Chinese government in 1999. This area is home to many original tea cultivars that farmers are encouraged to preserve. The tea grown in this region is organic since pesticides are not allowed, and the climate is ideal for tea cultivation due to abundant rainfall and fog. Because of its uniqueness, Zheng Yan tea tends to be pricier than other varieties. If you want to try premium yancha, start by trying teas from the Zheng Yan area, which retailers often market as Zhengyan tea, Zhengshan tea (original mountain), or Natural Reserve tea.

Within the Zheng Yan area, there is a place known as Three Pits and Two Gullies. It comprises Huiyuan Pit, Niulan Pit, Daoshui Pit, Liuxiang Gully, and Wuyuan Gully, which many tea enthusiasts believe is the most original source of yancha. However, these teas are rarely labeled as such, so you may need to do some research to find them.

Ban Yan

The Ban Yan region, which translates to “half rock,” surrounds the National Reserve area of Zheng Yan.

Zhou Cha

Zhou Cha refers to tea grown by farmers along the Nine Bends River that runs through the Wuyi Mountains.

Wai Shan

Wai Shan is the outermost region of the Wuyi Mountains, far from Zheng Yan. Tea grown in this area is less sought after than tea from the other regions. However, each area has its microclimate, mineral content in the soil, and regulations for growing tea. Tea enthusiasts generally agree that tea grown outside of Zheng Yan may not have the iconic rock rhyme flavor, but it may still have unique flavor profiles. Some examples of teas from this area are Qi Lan and Huang Mei Gui.

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