Rooster versus eagle: which bird would win? The eagle is a bird of prey with the right anatomical features to rend the flesh of another animal, yet a rooster will take on an eagle to protect its young. Brave? Foolhardy? Legendary. After witnessing a rooster sacrifice its life for its chick, a monk, touched by its courage, buried the rooster where it fell. From that spot grew a white cockscomb (bai ji guan; 白鸡冠) tea plant.
Of course we know all types of tea come from the same plant and it’s just the way the tealeaves are processed that contribute to its flavour so the name is likely a reference to the way the light-hued leaves look like a cockscomb—but why let a standard description get in the way of a good story?
White cockscomb is a rock oolong from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian province, China. It’s probably one of the rarest of the Wuyi oolongs because few producers know how to make it so the finished leaves retain their paleness.
I first tried white cockscomb tea at MY Teahouse and eventually bought a box (50g/$38) although I’m generally not a connoisseur of rock oolongs.
Unlike other tea from the Wuyi Mountain region, white cockscomb doesn’t have a heavy mineral flavour. It’s definitely present, but the defining characteristic of this tea is a kind of sweet woody note on the first infusion, mellowing to a smoky honey taste on subsequent brews, which recalls fragrant timber like sandalwood or other sweet leaves like tobacco.
If you’re not a fan of rock oolongs like Big Red Robe (da hong pao; 大红袍) because of its heavy mineral taste or intense roasted notes, white cockscomb will be a pleasant surprise.
The Year of the Rooster is one of punctuality, hard work and pursuit of opportunity and I take this to mean it’s time for you to enjoy the fruits of these tea producers’ hard labour and try white cockscomb tea if you haven’t already!