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Oolong Cliff Teas


For some reason that I can’t explain, it seems to me that anything grown on a cliff will naturally taste better than something grown in a field. I think it somehow goes back to the hours I spent as a child watching the Karate Kid go after those elusive bonsai trees, but who knows? So when I heard about the variety of oolong tea known as Wǔyí cliff tea from Fújiàn province,  I just had to dig deeper.

Four of these cliff teas form a very special group. They’re called Si Da Ming Cong, which literally means “The Four Great Bushes”. Legend has it that the mother of a Ming Dynasty emperor was on her death-bed when someone brought her some tea. After drinking the tea, the emperor’s mother was cured, and the emperor himself sent great red robes to cover the four bushes from which the tea had been harvested; these were the Si Da Ming Cong.

Today, the Si Da Ming Cong still grow on a rock on Mt. Wǔyí. Every year a small amount of tea is harvested from them, some of which the Chinese government retains, while the rest is auctioned off for millions of dollars per kilogram. Cuttings from the original plants have also been used to create similar grades of tea in other places throughout the land.

The teas produced by the four bushes are Dà Hóng Páu, Shuǐ Jīn Guī, Tiě Luó Hàn and Bái Jī Guān. Dà Hóng Páu, which means “The Red Robe”, is usually reserved for honored guests. Shuǐ Jīn Guī, which means “Golden Marine Turtle”, is so named due to the fact that it turns a dark green color upon being steeped, which is apparently something that the other Wǔyí cliff teas do not do. Tiě Luó Hàn is said to have been created by a powerful warrior-monk with golden-bronze skin. And Bái Jī Guān, the last of these teas is named for a rooster that gave its life while trying to protect its young.

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