In recent years, Wuyi Rock Oolong has become a tea lover’s wonderland for its outstanding temperament and mesmerizing taste. Wuyi tea lovers specifically love to chase after the “Rock Yun”. Yun is a term frequently used in tea tasting notes, but what exactly is the Rock Yun specific to Wuyi rock tea? In a nutshell, the Yun is known as “rock bone, floral fragrance.” These simple four words tell it all, the most desirable attributes in real high grade Wuyi rock tea. It is the whole presence of the very terroir of core Wuyi Mountain, that includes the soil and the weather, the tea varietals, the cultivation, and the traditional processing skills and methods that form this uniquely exceptional type of oolong tea.
Well, doesn’t “floral fragrance” sound self-explanatory? We can smell floral fragrance with other teas. So, what is special about it? I agree, it is not difficult to detect, one just needs to have experience and be able to identify the “floral” notes. The difficult part is the “Rock Bone”. How on earth a liquor could be related to bone or any matter like that? How can one feel the rock bone in their mouth with this tea? Well, let me put it this way, an experienced tea taster or connoisseur can detect it. We simply need to train our taste buds and refine our palate. It just takes a bit of time sampling a lot of high quality real authentic Wuyi Rock tea. Yes, real high-quality rock tea. When I started to drink Wuyi tea eight years ago, I had no idea how the “rock bone” impacted my taste buds, I just didn’t get it. But years later, after tasting some “real deal” Shui Xian, the essence of “bone” came alive to me and I suddenly realized what “rock bone” sensation that experienced tasters had talked about. It is obvious to me now whether or not a tea has the rock bone or not. If I can do it, so can you. The more you drink, the more you understand the tea and how to taste it. There is a saying that the real teacher is the tea itself.
To make it easier to understand and taste the “Rock Yun”, let us break it down into four tasting elements, that is “Lively, Sweet, Clean, and Fragrant.”
Lively - This means the liquor has a sweet aftertaste and is saliva-producing. The key here is the texture we feel and the consistency, meaning that this element is consistently produced in every cup to the end. The taste of each steeping has some variations, though how much your palate detects it will vary with each cup.
Sweet aftertaste - From the first steeping of a more highly concentrated liquor, to the later steeps of lighter liquor, the sweet aftertaste is always there. You can detect it underneath your tongue and throughout your mouth. It can last through the last steeping, and a high grade rock tea can be enjoyed for more than 15 steeps.
Clean and clear – Clean is how we taste, clear is the color we can see in the liquor. These qualities are one of the results of Wuyi rock tea’s unique baking process. Proper and skillful baking eliminates odors, grassiness, and other unpleasant smells in the leaf. Some incorrectly processed rock tea may result in a cloudy/opaque tea.
Fragrance - Fragrance is not added, but naturally exists in the tea leaf. It comes alive as a result of its special processing. It emanates from the terroir, the specific varietal, and the applied artisan skill sets and processing methods.
The Yun is the comprehensive presence of the above four dimensions. The complexity and overlay of all the dimensions in a tea forms the uniqueness of a specific tea. But is there a superior dimension among the four? I think so. As we all may notice, the first thing we always notice about a tea, coffee, or food in general, is its fragrance. When we drink tea or water, we can detect a cleanness in our mouth. The next level is the sweet aftertaste. Only a good quality leaf produces this attribute, and experienced tea masters enhance it during processing. The last and the best element is “lively”. For a tea to taste lively, it must have the other three elements inherent in the liquor. It is the texture of the liquor and the other three elements that interact with our palate.
Wuyi rock tea is no doubt the most complicated and most fascinating tea in the oolong category. However, only high grades of Wuyi rock tea can have the “Rock Yun” that comes from the core producing rocky areas of Wuyi Mountain, a World Heritage Site. Due to its popularity, a lot of inferior rock teas are produced outside of the Wuyi mountain area, some even from Jian Shui and other areas that are 100 miles away from Wuyi Mountain. The locals call the Wuyi rock tea harvested from the core rocky mountain area “Zhen Yan”, meaning the real rock. Zhen Yan rock teas are usually much more expensive than the teas from the outside areas or from plantation bushes.