A Guide to Wuyi Mountain Cliff Tea

This comprehensive guide to the “Tea of the Immortals” is a wonderful resource, compiled from many articles, interviews and translations.


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6 Responses to “A Guide to Wuyi Mountain Cliff Tea”

  1. issue7 Says:

    One of my students asked me to clarify a bit on the roasting of Zhen Yan: I state in the article that real Zhen Yan is never, ever heavily-roasted. This may be confusing a bit, so let me clarify: First, you need to know that these days some Zhen Yan is sold off to big producers and/or factories as the tree owners have too much to process themselves or don’t wish to do so. Some of that may indeed end up with a heavier roast, but that is not traditional yancha. Also, the second point of confusion is if you are scaling light to heavy roast based on all oolong teas, rather than just yancha itself. On such a scale, all yancha would be on the heavier side these days. Since the 1980s most tea-growing areas have begun to produce lighter oolongs to suit larger markets. However, traditionally all oolong was what we would call heavy on this scale. But in all teas, no matter how heavy or light the roast, the measure of a truly skillful roast is always the same: the roast should improve the tea without leaving a trace of itself, as should any stage in the process. If the tea tastes like roast; if you can’t even tell the varieties of yancha apart—so very distinct in flavor—then either the quality of the leaves was lower, prompting a heavy roast to cover this up (i.e. ban yan, zhou cha or wei san) or the tea was simply roasted without skill (Alas! The hallmark of our age: the death of such cultural arts in their truest forms). As I mentioned in the article, I have some low-grade yancha from a trip I took there in 2000 or so that still to this day fills the room with a roasted smell when you open the jar. And what’s more, it lacks a trace of anything else.

    I hope this helps clarify the slight confusion with the word “heavy”


  2. antonio Says:

    Very beautiful article! Thank you very much! In your experience, what is the best way to brew Yancha?

  3. issue7 Says:

    Most shops, even in Wuyi, use either a gaiwan or Yixing pot and then cram it full of leaf–to the rim. They do this for two reasons: first, traditional gong fu tea began in Fujien and even since the Qing Dynasty people here have liked their tea strong, for the most part. Secondly, they very rarely have good yancha. Even if it is zhen yan, it’s often machine-processed. So very little is hand-processed these days, and almost none completely so (Even the small producers typically make “semi-hand-processed” even though they’ll call it hand-processed.) One of the first lessons my master taught me was to take me around to all the shops, factories and even the most famous tea house and we bought their highest-quality, most expensive teas for comparison. Anyway, if your yancha is this kind of heavily-roasted tea, then it tastes better brewed in this fashion: lots of leaves in a gaiwan or yixing. For good, high-quality yancha very, very little is needed. I never put more then 3 grams, and even that only on special occasions. If I am alone 1.5-2grams will do and if I am drinking with a friend 2-2.5 grams. Of course, nothing beats a good Yixing pot. Good yancha also likes hot water, prepared with charcoal if you can–the deeper heat will pay off.

    I’ll qualify this by saying that you should enjoy your tea, and not get too wrapped up in so-called “levels”. My first love affair with tea was with a low-quality “Da Hong Pao” from Chinatown. I have no regrets. Though I may not enjoy such tea so often nowadays, I still look back fondly on those sessions and wouldn’t change a thing. Be where you are, use what you’ve got and don’t get too hung up on looking towards a future with more of this or that.

  4. antonio Says:

    Thanks again for your guidance on the brewing parameters – this is very very useful! I know one should try to find his/her own way but I find it always interesting to hear other people’s experience, especially those who have had the chance to be “on the spot” and see how it is originally done.

    I imagine you use a rather small Yixing or gaiwan when you say you use 2 grams and use 1 minute or more as a start brewing time, moving up from there.

    Personally, I use a Yixing from the 50s of about 150cl, with thick walls that keeps the heat very high for a long time and, in my opinion, makes excellent Yancha. Till today, I have always used a relatively large amount of leaves, like 6 to 8 grams of tea – maybe a reminiscence of when I used to be able to afford lower quality teas and, as you mentioned, crammed it full to get good taste. This morning, after reading your message, I tried 3 grams of what I think is a good Lao Jun Mei and wow: what a surprise! I now realize that with a lot of tea, I was getting more of the “roasted” sents and less of everything else. In this particular tea, I could even detect the smell of sweet black grapes! Very interesting experience indeed!

    My first love with tea was also with a (very) low quality, highly-roasted tea, bought over 20 years ago at a shop that sold mostly coffee beans… The learning that I have gone through since has definitely brought me to a different stage, but it is true what you say, that the “here and now” is what we should focus on and enjoy it, without loosing our concentration and peace in this noisy World.

    thanks again!

  5. issue7 Says:

    It is actually a bit misleading to speak of “levels” and “progress”. The best tea is brewed from the heart, and as long as one is wrapped up in whose cha is better, how and why–without breaking through to the spirit and Dao–one is always covered in dust, and therefore at a “lower level”. That said, I have found that I move more and more into using less leaves as time passes. When you fill the pot with any tea, as you discovered, subtle flavors are all overwhelmed by the more powerful ones. Also, when your pot is full, you yourself get full quicker and never follow the tea into deeper parts of the leaf—deep down where only the 20th or even 30th steeping can get to. Try it with more of you teas and see what you think!

  6. dkrietz Says:

    This is such a fantastic article. I have to say I was getting a bit worried when issue 7 was taking a while…but it was worth the wait! Thanks so much for putting together such a great piece!

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