Both Da Hong Pao and Shui Xian are highly revered Wuyi Oolong teas. They share similar qualities of yan yun, a robust mineral taste, and pleasantly lingering sweetness. Perhaps in the modern tea world, Da Hong Pao rings more bells than its cousin, Shui Xian. Nevertheless, they are both outstanding Wuyi tea varieties worth trying. So what exactly makes them different?
What is Wuyi Oolong Tea (Yancha)?
Yancha is the most famous and most expensive oolong tea in China. While some yancha varieties aren't cheap, there are many authentic and delicious varieties that are affordable and worth trying!
The names come from the rocky, mountainous area where the tea grows and its unmistakable "rocky" taste, thanks to the soil known to be rich in minerals.
Compared to other oolong tea varieties, Wuyi Yancha is twisted into strips instead of being rolled. The tea is often darker and smokier.
A perfect cup of Wuyi Rock Tea is when the sweet, floral side is in perfect balance with the mineral, roasted side.
Briefly about Yan Yun
In Chinese, Yan means rock. This is also where the name Yan Cha comes from — Rock Tea.
Yun, on the other hand, is more of an abstract term. It's a feeling, or a knowing, nothing of the physical realm.
In music, the term Yun is used to define a certain rhythm that coats the listener with delight.
From our previous blog post on Yan Yun:
"Yun is indeed a very poetic word, and when it comes to the feeling we get from tea the best way to describe it would be a gracefulness that all of the qualities exhibit, tying together taste, aroma, mouthfeel, exhibits feeling we get after sipping the tea."
Read more about Yan Yun here.
Da Hong Pao Vs. Other Wuyi Oolong Teas
Da Hong Pao is a well-known yancha variety in the western world, however at times, overhyped. "Big Red Robe" tea bushes grow from the cracks in the rocks of the Wuyi mountains and have a long journey to make to reach maturity. Indeed, when tasting Da Hong Pao, the sweet essence that comes from such hard work is undeniable.
Compared to other Wuyi Oolong tea varieties, most Da Hong Pao sold nowadays usually is not a cultivar of its own but rather a blend. In fact, it's most often a blend of the Shui Xian and Rou Gui cultivars.
While a pure cultivar of "Big Red Robe" does exist, it is usually too expensive for most people to ever get to try. The name of the Da Hong Pao cultivar is Qi Dan.
Bei Dou Wuyi Oolong Tea is a first-generation derivative from the original "Big Red Robe". It was created in the 1980s by Mr. Yao Yue Ming, using 800-year old Da Hong Pao tea bush cuttings. We highly recommend trying this enticing tea.
"Big Red Robe" Oolong is refreshing, energizing, yet comforting tea. Since it grows in such harsh conditions, the taste of each Da Hong Pao harvest can vary significantly. Tea enthusiasts eagerly wait to taste a new harvest, hoping it excels the previous one in never before imaginable complexity. Yet, slightly fearing it won't live up to last year's.
The tea leaves of "Big Red Robe" are strong and slightly twisted. The brew is a lovely bright amber color. The mouthfeel is soft and velvety. The taste ever-changing.
While many are used to thinking of Da Hong Pao as the King of Wuyi teas, this is often not the case. While "Big Red Robe" is surely a delicious tea, there are many other Wuyi tea varieties which offer more pronounced and interesting tastes, with prominent yan yun.
Shui Xian is yet another Yancha variety. It has less world-wide popularity, but an absolute must-try for yancha fans. It's a mellow tea with an elegant, yet well-pronounced floral taste.
Compared to Da Hong Pao, Shui Xian has a very pronounced yan yun like no other.
What stands out about Shui Xian is its tea legend, which beautifully encompasses the elegance and graceful nature of this rock tea.
The legend of this particular yancha is very poetic. It begins with a Wuyi mountain tea farmer who wished to find where the rivers begin their journey. The farmer set out on a trip to the top of the mountain. He walked amidst the clouds and mist for hours, slowly making his way up the cliffs. Suddenly, he met an old man, a mountain spirit, who guided him to some tea bushes. The farmer took some cuttings back to his village and cultivated them. The resulting tea was the purest that the villagers ever tasted. to honor the mountain spirit, they named the tea "Water Sprite", or "Water Immortal".
When sipping Shui Xian for the first time, be prepared for such a gentle experience.
The tea itself has a visible orchid scent. It's soft and gentle. These soft qualities are precisely what makes it a sought-after tea. If you are looking for a relaxing tea with a mellow mouthfeel, one that will put you into a beautiful symphony — then we recommend trying Shui Xian.
However, don't be fooled. The beautiful floral aroma lingers, as this tea has a strong and sweet aftertaste.
The tea leaves of Shui Xian are also sturdy and slightly twisted. The brew a beautiful golden yellow. The liquid also possesses an enticing scent of wood and moss. While it's a mellow tea, it is forgiving and endures many infusions for a long and present tea session.
In conclusion, while Da Hong Pao is a better known yancha in the tea drinking world, it does not necessarily make it a better tea. We would like to highlight that all yancha varieties possess their unique flavor profiles, aromas, and mouthfeel. The best way to discover your favorite is to try for yourself!