Wuyishan (Wuyi Mountain) is located in Northwest Fujian and is a naturally beautiful area with a great deal of nature and wildlife. This includes an impressive amount of biodiversity, due to the area’s naturally warm climate and a nutrient rich environment. In 1999 the Chinese government designated part of the Wuyishan area as Wuyi World Heritage Reserve (Zhengyan). Tea is well-represented in the world reserve, the Zhengyan region being the original home to countless tea cultivars. Despite having a somewhat low elevation (~300-700 m.) this terroir and Yancha’s complex processing make Yancha a unique and excellent tea.
Zhengyan. Lao Cong. Popular buzzwords for Yancha that vendors use to distinguish and sell their tea for a higher price. This article will examine what each of these means and how to decipher through this sometimes confusing tea terminology.
Note: Nearly all tea covered in this article will be somewhat premium. Aside from a couple exceptions, tea will likely be processed in the traditional style of Wuyi oolongs, heavy fermentation, medium baking, and final firing.
What/Where is Zhengyan?
Zhengyan (or Mingyan) is the original location or region and is usually classified as the National Reserve. Zheng literally means original and Yan means rock. This area covers about 70 sq. kilometers, not all of which is used to grow tea. Here are a couple reasons tea grown in the Zhengyan region assures greater quality assurance:
- No pesticides are allowed on the natural reserve.
- Climate. The mountains act as a protective barrier creating a microclimate (source). This creates a humid environment with year-round rain and fog. The soil is also rich with minerals.
The climate in particular allows for an incredible amount of natural biodiversity, including countless different cultivars of tea plants. The core Wuyi area is said to have 36 peaks, 72 caves, 99 cliffs. and 108 scenic spots (source), very specific numbers highlighting the preciousness of the area itself. Areas outside of Zhengyan that also grow Yancha are:
- Banyan – Literally half-rock tea. Grown around the edges of the national park. It lacks the quality terroir of Zhengyan. Pesticides are often used here (source).
- Zhou Cha – Literally river tea. Grown around the river of the nearby Nine Bends River (source).
- Waishan – Literally outside mountain. Tea grown outside of the park and outside of Banyan or Zhou Cha. Sometimes people will simplify the classification and tea will either be Zhengyan or Waishan (source).
In practical terms, shopping for Zhengyan is one of the most immediate or easy ways to find more premium Yancha. Usually Zhengyan tea will be marketed as such, but it is sometimes used synonymously with National Reserve tea. Another tea term (unrelated to Yancha) tossed around is Zhengshan, meaning original mountain. This has essentially the same basic meaning as Zhengyan, but is more generalized to include non-rock tea.
Note: Zhengshan is usually used for Yunnan-grown pu’erh (home to many very old trees), as well as Lapsang Souchong (also grown in the Wuyi mountains), and other oolongs.
|Dragon Tea House||Lao Cong Shui Xian, Da Hong Pao.|
|Jing Tea Shop||Shui Xian, Aged Rou Gui.|
|Seven Cups||Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui.|
|Tea Urchin||Qi Lan, P. Tie Luo Han, Bei Dou, P. Shui Jin Gui, Jin Mu Dan.|
|The Mandarin’s Tea Room||Several Shui Xians.|
|Essence of Tea||All.|
|Best Tea House||Unclear.|
|Origin Tea||Tie Luo Han, Shui Xian.|
|Hou de Asian||Rou Gui, Da Hong Pao.|
Lao Cong literally means Old Bush and is predominantly used to describe Shui Xian that comes from older than normal bushes. This becomes more confusing when shopping for Lao Cong Shui Xian. What exactly does old mean? Well it seems there’s not necessarily a standard definition and being an old bush does not necessarily mean the same thing vendor to vendor. For one vendor it could mean 15 years, whereas another is over 100! The age disparity is huge and consumers should never shop blindly for Lao Cong Shui Xian without regards to the actual bushes age. As is the case for many tea-related things be sure to take the exact age of the bushes with a health dose of skepticism.
Note: Lao Cong Shui Xian costs roughly twice as much as regular Shui Xian!
Note #2: Lao Cong is not usually used to describe the Si Da Ming Cong (Da Hong Pao, Tie Luo Han, Shui Jin Gui, Bai Ji Guan) even though many of the Zhengyan bushes for Ming Cong are quite old. This is partially for marketing reasons. Shui Xian is usually sold as a lower-end Yancha; Marketing older bush tea as Lao Cong Shui Xian offers sellers a chance to differentiate their Shui Xian as a higher-grade tea.
Note #3: Lao Cong isn’t reserved to just Wuyi oolongs. Similar to how Zhengshan is used for non-Yancha teas, Lao Cong is often used for Dancong and other types of tea.
Age of Lao Cong Shui Xian Bushes
|Vendor||$ Cost||Quantity (oz)||$/oz||# Offerings||Age of Bushes|
|Dragon Tea House||$21.75||1.76||$12.36||2||Unclear.|
|Jing Tea Shop||$8.95||0.88||$10.17||1||50-60 years.|
|Tea Spring||$8.20||0.88||$9.32||1||15+ years.|
|Seven Cups||$24.30||1.76||$13.81||1||30+ years.|
|The Mandarin’s Tea Room||$22.00||0.88||$25.00||1||100+,200+ years.|
|Essence of Tea||$20.83||0.5||$41.66||4||100+ years.|
|Origin Tea||$24.75||0.88||$28.13||2||35+,80+ years.|
Zhengyan and Lao Cong are by far the most common “special Yancha” markers you will run into. However, if you are hunting for the supreme-grade stuff there are some very specific areas deep within the scenic reserve to look out for. One famous location at the heart of the Zhengyan reserve is the three pits and two gullies (source). The name refers to Huiyuan Pit, Niulan Pit, Daoshui Pit, Liuxiang Gully, and Wuyuan Gully and is thought by some as the most traditional Yancha source.
One of the three pits. Huiyuan is most famously associated with both Tie Luo Han and Bai Ji Guan. Tie Luo Han was originally produced in Fengke Pit of Huiyuan rock. Bai Ji Guan was originally produced at the foot of Flame Peak in Huiyuan Rock (source). The tea bushes here are likely to be very old. The location should not be mistaken for the yancha-producing factory (also named Huiyuan).
One of the three pits. Niulan Keng or Niulan Pit is usually associated with Shui Jin Gui and its origin story (source). It is also associated with Rou Gui and represents one of the best regions for both teas.
Literally Tianxin Rock. This is a major landmark within the scenic reserve. Jiu Long Ke (Jiu Long cliff) located on Tianxin Yan is the home to the original Da Hong Pao. These specific bushes are no longer active as the original trees are no longer allowed to be picked (prohibited in 2007).This is also very close to Liuxiang Gully, one of the two gullies (Liuxiang Gully is just north of Tianxin Yan).
This article was intended primarily for informational/educational purposes. Most of it was researched and curated from far more knowledgeable sources. Please check them out:
- Vicony Teas (1,2) – Some really good information on Yancha in general as well as Zhengyan. A bit dense, but worth sifting through.
- Tea Seek – Vicony Tea’s blog. Covers the primary difference between Lapsang Souchong and Yancha growing regions.
- Seven Cups – Lots of great information here on Wuyi oolongs history and processing. Some of Seven Cups Yancha is growing in the Zhengyan area.
- Essence of Tea – On the environment and terroir. All of Essence of Tea’s Yancha is grown in the Zhengyan area but the article covers outer growing regions as well.
- Teavivre - Covers the four famous bushes including their native growing areas.
- The Leaf Issue 7 – Covers terroir, regions of Yancha.
- China Travel Designer – On traveling through the National Reserve.