Da Hong Pao: Why it is the Most Expensive Tea in the World

Jill Caren

Da Hong Pao tea is one of the most expensive teas in the world, and now you want to find out more about this tea. …

Categories Tea

Da Hong Pao tea is one of the most expensive teas in the world, and now you want to find out more about this tea. If so, you’ve come to the right place.

I’ll show you the main characteristics of this, also called Red Robe Tea, and uncover the secret of how the most expensive tea is sold by most tea brands so cheaply.

What is Da Hong Pao Tea?

Da Hong Pao, also known as Big Red Robe tea, is a premium Wuyi Rock long-leaf partly oxidized oolong tea. Like the other Wuji rock teas, Da Hong Pao originates from the steep cliffs of the Wuji mountains in the Fujian province of China.

Since 1999, the Wuyi Mountains have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its river valleys, bamboo forests, and rocky cliffs, the Wuji mountains are one of the most beautiful terrains in the world, evoking the atmosphere of an old kung-fu movie.

You can find interesting details on the Wuji Mountains by visiting museumofwander.com here.

Of all the oolongs produced in the Wuji area, this tea is the most famous and, for sure, the most expensive.

Garden of Da Hong Pao tea in the Wuji Mountains
Da Hong Pao tea garden in the Wuji Mountains | Photo credit: museumofwander.com

Appearance, Aroma and Flavor

Da Hong Pao tea leaves are usually dark red-brown in color depending on the oxidation level and roasting process.

The leaves are curled rather than rolled. They have the appearance of tightly knotted ropes or twisted strips. The first infusion has a deep red or brown color. Later infusions have a lighter color.

The aroma is typical of Wuji oolong teas, with earthy and woody notes, hints of stone fruit, nuts, and sweet caramel overtones. The roasting procedure also imparts a tobacco or charcoal aroma.

Depending on your taste preferences, Da Hong Pao can be re-steeped 6–8 times or sometimes more. With each infusion, you’ll get a different taste. Each infusion will have a distinct flavor.

The initial infusion is more potent, with mineral and woody flavors predominating. The mineral taste gradually fades after the third infusion, and the sweeter and fruitier components become more noticeable.

Caffeine Content

The caffeine content in oolong teas is moderate and ranges between 16 and 55 mg per 8 fl oz cup. It’s usually around 37 mg per cup. You can expect the same amount of caffeine in a cup of Da Hong Pao tea.

It is hard to say the exact amount of caffeine because you’ll get a blend of pure Da Hong Pao and other Wuji teas (more on this later). So the caffeine content varies, but it is usually in the middle between the caffeine in green and black tea.


Oolong tea traditionally benefits human health by reducing dehydration and releasing accumulated internal heat, allowing the body to adjust to changes in the natural environment. Oolong tea is also known to be high in antioxidants.

Catechins are the primary components of green tea leaves. In black tea, they are oxidized and dimerized during fermentation to the yellow-orange “pigments,” theaflavins, or polymerized to the red “pigments,” called thearubigins.

Additionally, oolong tea contains a mixture of catechins, theaflavins, and thearubigins.

Many studies have shown that both catechins and theaflavins have strong free radical scavenging activity both in vitro and in vivo. The total theaflavin content in Da Hong Pao is the highest compared to green, black, and Pu-erh tea.

So, Big Red Robe tea is not only unique in flavor, color, and history, but it is also beneficial to our health.

Types of Da Hong Pao Tea 

Sometimes there is confusion among tea drinkers about Da Hong Pao tea and how come this is one of the most expensive teas in the world and there are many brands selling this tea so cheaply. The answer is in Da Hong Pao’s types, and they may be sometimes confusing.

There are three main types:

  • “Mother Tree Da Hong Pao”
  • “Purebred Da Hong Pao”
  • “Commodity Da Hong Pao”

Original or Mother Tree Da Hong Pao

The first type is known as the original or “Mother Tree Da Hong Pao”. There are only 6 mother trees at Tian Xin Rock, which is currently a tourist destination. Three of these mother trees date back to the Song Dynasty.

In order to preserve these six mother trees, the Chinese government banned harvesting them in 2006.

Tea leaves from mother trees are considered a national treasure. Today, no matter what some tea brands say, it is impossible to consume the original tea harvested from mother trees.

Mother tree Da Hong Pao bushes
The original or mother tree Da Hong Pao | Photo by: museumofwander.com

The yearly harvest of tea leaves is minimal and highly dependent on rainfall. Even in the greatest years, just a few hundred grams of tea are harvested.

They can only be processed into a tea by the most senior and recognized tea producers. Finalized tea is not for sale and is frequently given to a foreign head of state as a national gift.

The original Da Hong Pao is so valuable that when US President Nixon visited China in 1972, Chairman Mao gifted him 200 grams of the original type.

Also, in 2002, one of the last batches of the original Da Hong Pao at auction reached almost $28,000 for just 20 grams of tea.

Due to this high price, some people say that a gram of Big Red Robe tea from the mother tree costs more than a gram of gold.

Purebred Da Hong Pao

This is the second highest-quality type that is most similar to the original type.

Tea specialists began taking cuttings from mother plants for reproduction in 1985, so it’s still relatively new. Although this procedure has significantly boosted the production of Red Robe teas, the purebred type remains exceedingly expensive.

Commodity Da Hong Pao

This is usually the tea that you’ll get when you buy Da Hong Pao tea. This is a blend of the purebred type and other Wuji oolong teas, most often Rou Gui and Shui Xian.

Don’t be confused by the term “blend” in this context. It simply means that it’s a blend of only and only high-quality Wuji oolong tea leaves.

Today, many tea manufacturers label their low-quality Wuji rock teas as “Da Hong Pao”. You must be careful and look to see if there is purebred tea in the blend and if all the other teas are from the Wuji Mountain area. Otherwise, you’ll get a tea blend that has nothing in common with this famous tea.

Legends: The Origin Stories

There are many legends about Da Hong Pao, which translates to English as “Big Red Robe” (this name is important for the legends). Here are the two most popular legends about the origin of this famous tea.

The legend of the sick scholar and the monk

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), a scholar became ill on his way to the imperial exam. During this time, students who passed the Imperial test had the opportunity to become officials and advisors to the Emperor.

Fortunately, a passing monk attended to the sick scholar and gave him a unique tea with healing properties. The tea gave him strength. As the best student, he was awarded the Imperial Red Robe.

The scholar returned to thank the monk and ask where he got the tea that had healed him. The Monk took him to the tea bushes. As a sign of gratitude, he made a symbolic gesture by removing his red robe and wrapping it over the tea plants.

He returned to the palace with some of the tea. The tea has since been known as “Big Red Robe”.

The legend of the emperor’s mother

According to this legend, an emperor’s mother came down very ill. Many doctors fell down trying to cure her until a traveling scholar brought her tea from the tea bushes in the Wuji Mountains.

She recovered quickly after drinking the tea. As a sign of gratitude, the Emperor donated red robes to protect the tea plants.

How Do You Drink Da Hong Pao Tea?

To properly brew Da Hong Pao tea, first, you’ll need high-quality loose-leaf tea and high-quality water. Never use distilled or tap water. Opt for spring or filtered water.

To get the full experience, it is best to be brewed following the Eastern style with a gaiwan. You can also brew it in the Western style with a teapot.

Tips for brewing

Eastern Style: It’s recommended to use 3–4 grams of loose tea per 90 ml of water. The water temperature should be around 95°C (203°F). The steep time for the first infusion is 30 seconds. You can re-steep 6–8 times. Add 20 seconds more for every other infusion.

For the first infusion, pour a little water into the gaiwan just to cover the leaves and then discard the water. This will open the leaves and prepare them to give you their full flavor.

Western Style: Use 2-3 grams of loose tea per cup (237 ml). The water temperature should be around 95°C (203°F). The steeping time for the first infusion is 3 minutes.

For re-steeping, add 30 seconds more. Apply the same step by adding a little water to the leaves and then discarding the water.

Note: After you try the tea, if you want a stronger or lighter taste, you can adjust the amount of leaves and steeping time according to your personal preference.

The Takeaway

Da Hong Pao is a truly unique tea. Yes, you can’t pay thousands of dollars to get the original tea from the mother trees (it’s not for sale even if you have the money). But you can try the purebred Da Hong Pao, which is also expensive.

Or simply, as I did, try the commodity type, which is a blend of some purebred and other Wuji teas.

If you are a real tea enthusiast, this is a tea that you should add to your collection. It has a moderate caffeine content, is rich in antioxidants, and gives you a chance to enjoy its flavor, which changes with every infusion.

At the end of this article, I hope that I’ve managed to bring to light and reveal the secret of Da Hong Pao tea and the dilemma of its high price.