What is Rock Tea?

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

Rock tea, also known as Yancha (yan meaning rock, cha meaning tea), are oolong teas that come from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province, China.

Rock tea is called that not only because it grows in this rocky, mountainous area, but also because it inherits an unmistakeable “rocky” taste, thanks to the soil which is known to be rich in minerals.

The Wuyi Mountain region is the place with a unique terroir. Locals call it 三坑两涧和马头 – Three Valleys, Two Streams and "Horse Head" Rock. The mountain peaks, though not incredibly high, are always shrouded with fog and mist. The moisture gets accumulated on the rocky sides of the mountains and then flows down these rocks, to the roots of the tea plants, enriching them with minerals and creating the unique Yan Yun (“rock rhyme") taste.


wuyi oolong


Yancha Tea History 

Oolong tea as we know it originated during 16th century Ming Dynasty. For hundreds of years, the Emperors of China would drink compressed tea in the form of tea cakes which was cultivated and produced in Fujian tea gardens. However, the production of tea cakes was becoming too expensive since it required a lot of labor. The Emperor requested that from now on, he gets his tea in loose leaf form. 

The request caused a significant collapse of the well-established tea industry of Fujian and consequently smaller tea farms started popping up higher up in the Wuyi Mountains. These farms were mostly owned and tended to by Buddhist and Taoist monks who in turn discovered that letting the tea lightly oxidize before firing it created a new, darker, flavorful type of tea called Oolong. 

Compared to other types of Oolong tea, Wuyi Yancha is twisted into strips instead of being rolled. The tea is usually darker and smokier. 


Wuyi Mountains


What Influences The Price of Rock Tea?

Tea from this region is the most expensive in the world, with Da Hong Pao topping world records for some of the most expensive tea ever sold. Just 20 grams of this tea was once sold for 31,000 USD!

Harvesting tea can often be a complicated process. Zheng Yan, the prime area of Wuyi Shan, where the best and most praised cliff tea is grown, is a National Reserve area where the use of pesticides is prohibited. The area is quite small and allows to grow only a limited amount of tea. Furthermore, the processing that this tea undergoes is a unique craft that takes time to master. All of the above creates a demand that is much higher than the supply.

However, you do not need to buy the most expensive tea to taste the beauty of this region’s distinct flavor.

Trying a moderately priced tea of good quality, you will be able to taste why Rock Tea is so favored around the world.


Wuyi Yancha

What Does Rock Tea Taste Like?

Usually, Rock Tea is dark and heavily oxidized. It often has a pronounced, long-lasting roasted taste. As well as a distinct mineral taste, which is often described as the “rocky” taste.

The roasted qualities of Rock Tea alone should not be the main components. A quality Rock Tea is in perfect balance with other notes such as:

  • chocolate
  • floral
  • tobacco
  • caramel

A perfect cup of Rock Tea is when the mineral, roasted side is in perfect balance with the sweet, floral side.

The liquid should be a beautiful golden color and not too dark, which can signify an overly roasted tea.


A Little About Yan Yun

 Often, to describe the perfect cup of Wuyi Rock Tea, tea enthusiasts use the word Yan Yun, poetically translated as Rock Rhyme. 


Yan Yun is described by the mouthwatering sensation one gets after sipping the tea. The Rock Rhyme entrances us, invites us to drink more of the tea, to absorb all the nutrient it possesses.


To learn more about Yan Yun, click here