Yancha . Rock Tea

When I look out my window in the winter, I can see the shapes of the trees off in the distance so clearly. In the summer they are hidden from view, and even the ones I see, I see only their buffer of leaves. In winter I look out and see their form very clearly, I can see how they work, and where the leaves will soon be.

Just the same with the rock teas of Wuyi. As the flavor and fragrance fade, the structure of the tea, it’s foundation and its strength come clearly into focus. It was always there, holding everything together, and now it’s more pronounced. What is that structure? It’s the mouthfeel derived from the volcanic rock which provides the soil in the Wuyi mountains, hence the name rock tea. And what is that mouthfeel like? It’s like bones.

The reference to bones goes way back to a poem by a Yuan Emperor who praised Wuyi tea, comparing its signature charm to fish bones! This is sometimes deduced to imply  the way that the aftertaste lingers in the throat like scratchy bones, but actually with a strong traditional yancha you can really get the mealy bonelike texture of the tea—just as you would in eating small fish whole. Other teas may have a really outstanding perfume, but without these bones the tea fades after a steep or two. You can see why this element is so cherished in yancha. 

Wuyi teas are known best for their rock charm yanyun, which in addition to the mouth feeling of bones includes the bodily sensation that follows drinking, the lingering sweetness, and the way that you continue salivating long after the cup is empty. Because it follows you around well after the tea is finished, we say yunwei, “lingering charm”. This ornate expression is also used to describe art and music, the way a sad song will haunt you for days, or how the feeling of a beautiful piece of music sticks with you as more than the notes and words.