Black Dragon from the Flats of Stone Bullocks

Black Dragon from the Flats of Stone Bullocks
July 23, 2019 Leo Kwan
In In Focus, Tea Log

Between Wulong and Oolong

For those who do not know it yet, wulong and oolong are exactly the same when written in Chinese. The English terms are simply different romanisations. At Tea Hong, we use the two terms in slightly different context to reflect the way it is used in trade.

The term wulong had actually been not so popularly used in the market for teas made in Phoenix, Wuyi or for the variety that is Tieguanyin. They have always been referred to as Dancong’s, Yan Cha’s, or Tieguanyin. In trade, when the term wulong is used, it is mostly referred to an oolong tea that is made from one or more of the wulong group of cultivars, such as Qingxin, Aijiao, Cuiyu etc.

It is until the Western concept of categorisation basing on degree of “fermentation” has become popular that people in oolong regions began using the term oolong to refer to the tea as a category. Even so, it is more used in the academia than in the real trade world. 

That is why you do not say Tieguanyin wulong or Dancong wulong. That is because a tea that is made from a dancong cultivar or a tieguanyin cultivar is processed through a specific process where the leaves are partially oxidised, as always. Unless in rarer circumstances where the fresh plucks are to be made into green tea or red tea or white tea. In such instance it would be called a dancong red tea or tieguanyin white tea etc. Otherwise a Tieguanyin is called Tieguanyin, and a Dancong is called Dancong. You may qualify it by giving it the name of the origin, or cultivar, or vintage, or season of harvest etc. Adding the term wulong or oolong are redundant, and in fact, awkward. If you want to make it very clear, suffixing with even the term tea is a lot more acceptable.

That is the basic concept I’d like you to have before talking about Shiguping Wulong.

The odd tea from the Phoenix region that is not a dancong

Shiguping is a small area in the Phoenix ( i.e. Fenghuang ) region in the northeastern part of Guangdong Province in China. As you know, Phoenix produces the most highly-regarded of all oolongs — the Fenghuang Dancong varieties. However, Shiguping Wulong is not one of these.

Fenghuang Dancong, such as Eight Immortals, Song Cultivar Huangzhi Xiang, Honey Orchid, etc, are all produced from a kind of tea cultivar collectively known as Shuixian ( aka Chinese Sacred Lily ). It is closely related to the group of the same name used in the Wuyi region. However, that is another topic. 

The Wulong from Shiguping, however, is produced from a cultivar entirely different. It is a wulong plant. Examples of other wulong plants include Aijiao ( that produces our Cream Stout ), Sijichun ( that for Eternal Spring ), Qingxin ( that for our Cold Peak ), etc etc.

The origin of the wulong plant in Shiguping, however, is unknown. There maybe rumours, but no traceability. Its taste profile is more of our concern in the end of the day. It is not an overstatement to say this is one of the best Wulongs. 

Allow me to further explain. Over the decades, I have screened tens of varieties of this subcategory for inclusion in my repertoire. From the famous origins in the emerald mountains of Formosa to humid patches of tea fields amongst the dark rocks of Wuyishan. From famous names to unknown new cultivars. Some crazily expensive, some too humble a price. Some years more promising, some quite unimpressive.

And then there is Shiguping Wulong. To me, it is the finest and an archetypical representative of an oolong of the wulong plant can be. Tea Hong’s selection qualifies me to say that, because it is the premium of this rare variety.

Shiguping, the finest a Wulong can be

On may argue that there are Long Feng Xia, Wenshan and Lishan etc from Taiwan are exceptional wulong teas as well. Yes, I agree, but truly fine batches are rarely accessible. When they are, they can be at times comparable to Shiguping, though normally a tad less complex and intricate, but at significantly higher prices.

That said, Shiguping may not be everyone’s cup of oolong. I have placed my ranking purely from a professional perspective. It has nothing to do personal preference. If one wants a stronger taste, there is Cream Stout. For bouquet fragrance, Eternal Spring. Milder taste? Paochong. Jinxuan has been popular amongst new comers.

Oh as for the name Shiguping, the three simplified characters do not make much sense. The original writing in traditional Chinese has been lost since Mao Tse Dong’s government forced the country to adapt to simplified Chinese character in 1950’s. A vast majority of old artefacts, including documents from the local temple and previous government, were destroyed during the catastrophic Cultural Revolution, and most people in such rural areas were all striped of their schooling, so no one really knows the exact characters for the name. Because it is such a small area, no related old documents outside of China could be found as reference either.

Shiguping in simplified Chinese

In this name for Shiguping in simplified Chinese, the character in the middle, “gu”, means ancient, or old. The way the language is used cannot put this 3 characters together in any logical meaning

Shiguping in proper Chinese with the guess drum for the sound gu

In proper Chinese, aka traditional Chinese, the sound for “gu” can be understood as this middle character here for “drum”, giving the name of the place a meaning of “Stone Drum Flats”, which is in line with how many other places are named

Shiguping in proper Chinese with bullock for the sound gu

Another likely candidate for the sound “gu” is the character for bullock, as in this version of the name in traditional Chinese. This usage of the rarer and older character for bullock is more in line with the “She” and “Hakka” people who played key roles in developing this region.

So people are guessing based on the sound of the current text. One guess is Stone Drum Flats. The other is Stone Bullock Flats. There just might be some feature or artefact that the name used to refer, a common practice in this part of the world. If there was, however, it might have long been destroyed, along with most of the traditional culture. We have not been able to find anything for verification, other than this beautiful tea.