Rou Gui Rock Oolong Tea
Rou Gui Oolong Tea is one of the 5 most popular ‘Rock’ Oolong Teas (chin.: 岩茶青 ‘Yancha’ Oolong Tea). The tradition of this particular processing type applied to some of the Oolong tea cultivars native to a defined core region of Wuyi-Shan (Wuyi Mountains), located in the Chinese province of Fujian, reaches back to the times of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). The Wuyi region is generally considered as the ‘cradle of oolong teas’, a title that is also claimed by the Anxi region for its Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea. The decision, which of the two regions is the rightful claimant of the title might be left to historians. Nonetheless, there is evidence that both lines of Oolong teas have spread from their respective place of origin to other parts of China, most notably Taiwan, as well as to other South East Asian Countries, such as Thailand.
‘Rou Gui’ (chin.: 肉桂) verbally translated means ‘cinnamon’ in English, a name that appears to be derived from the full-bodied, spicy-sweet flavor, that has gained Rou Gui Oolong Tea worldwide popularity among friends of stronger roasted Oolong teas in general or Wuyi Rock Oolong teas (Yancha Oolong teas) in particular.
Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas (Yancha Oolong Teas)
This group of Oolong teas, among them also the worldwide famous Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) as well as the slowly catching up Shui Xian Oolong Tea is referred to as ‘Yancha‘ or ‘Rock‘ Oolong teas because of the rocky soil conditions in Wuyi Shan, which are often also quoted as being responsible for these teas’ typical mineral character. Yancha Oolong teas are further defined by the basic processing method and the medium to strong oxidation level common for all types of rock Oolong tea. This is also the reason why only very experienced Oolong tea drinkers might be able to tell the individual types of Yancha Oolong teas from each other when trying blind. Still, every rock tea type has its own cultivar it is yielded from and that is responsible for each type’s individual taste pattern and characteristics.
Spring Imperial Zhengyan Rou Gui Rock Oolong Tea – Place of origin
‘Zhengyan’ means as much as ‘original rock’, referring to a Wuyi tea’s origin from the core area of the cultivation and processing of Wuyi rock Oolong teas. Accordingly, our Spring Zhengyan Imperial Rou Gui (Cinnamon) Yancha Oolong tea also comes from the area around Tong Mu village, from where also the worldwide famous two black teas Lapsang Souchong and Jin Jun Mei originate.
Picking and Processing
Our Spring Zhengyan Imperial Rou Gui (Cinnamon) Rock Oolong Tea is still exclusively manually picked today, with a picking standard of 1+2, i. e. only the youngest leaf bud along with the two youngest adjacent unfolded leaves of each branch of the tea bush is picked. Harvest season of this tea is spring, when the tea plant increases its drive of the flavor and active substances accumulated during winter into the young budding tea leaves.
Everything about this tea is handiwork, beginning with its picking across all stages of the complex processing sequence for Wuyi Yancha Oolong tea: just like with other Oolong teas, also for Rou Gui Wuyi Oolong Tea the freshly picked tea leaves are initially withered under repeated shifting and manually breaking up the leaf surfaces – first outdoor in the sun, then in the half-shade of the production hall (please see hereto our Video on Oolong Tea Processing).
After reaching the desired degree of oxidation, the tea leaves are pan-fried at high temperatures for a short time in the wok, in order to stop the oxidation process. Subsequently, the so fixated tea leaves are in small badges subjected to a series of roasting runs over charcoal fire, a highly sensible and time-consuming procedure, whose most evident result is the typical roast aroma and flavor of the freshly roasted tea. While the former will vanish within a few months of storage with exposure to air, the latter will marry harmoniously into the overall taste pattern as a permanent roast note, another characteristic shared by Yancha Oolong teas. During roasting, the quite large leaves of the Rou Gui tea bush are manually rolled into their characteristic long, slightly curled shape.
Appearance, Fragrance and Taste
The ready processed tea leaves are black, with a red-brown shimmer (only visible with good lighting). The dry leaf material has a fragrance of freshly ground Chinese cinnamon, with pronounced sweetness. The freshly processed tea leaves exude a roasted / smoked fragrance that will however vanish after a few months of exposure to air. In the infusion, Spring Zheng Shan Imperial Rou Gui Oolong Tea please the eye with a clear, dark amber color.
Tastewise, the deep spicy cinnamon-impregnated sweetness, together with the described roast flavor and mineral note, forms a clearly dominating pattern. The roast note is particularly present in a first steep. After that, the mineral component and the specific sweet cinnamon note are increasingly taking the foreground. Long lingering aftertaste, especially the sweet cinnamon flavor will stay on one’s taste buds pleasing the senses for a long time after the actual sipping.
Cheaper (or ‘fake’) versions of Shui Xian and other prestigious Wuyi Yancha Oolong teas often have a strong smoky or burnt taste. Just like with lower quality Lapsang Souchong, an excessive roast and/or smoke note is often used in such cases to camouflage the absence of finer components and properties.
Using a clay teapot is always a best recommendation for the preparation of any Oolong tea. The optimal water temperature for the infusion of stronger roasted Oolong teas with a medium to high degree of oxidation is ca. 85°C (leave water to cool down for a short period after boiling). Regarding infusion time and number of infusions, two different basic standards can be applied to the preparation of Oolong tea, one of which is the ‘Gong Fu Cha’ method commonly practiced in China (see Tea Preparation / Tea Ceremony, including video footage) and the other is the so-called western approach:
In the Chinese Tea Ceremony (Gong Fu Cha), Oolong teas are prepared with relatively high dosing (up to 10g / 250-350ml teapot) with very short infusion periods of up to max. 1 minute per infusion in a sequence of infusions, whose exact number will depend on the quality and potential of the used Oolong tea. This way, up to 15 infusions are possible, for particularly high quality Oolong teas. Typically, the infusion period of a first infusion will last ca. 1 minute or less, with an even shorter 2 (and possibly 3rd and 4th infusion). However, at some point, the infusion time will be increased again and reach periods of even up to 3 minutes, before the tea will hit the limits of its potential.
According to the western preparation method, taking orientation rather on practical than on philosophical aspects, and being related to a completely different time concept and level of complexity, we recommend an infusion period of 2 minutes with a dosing of 3-5g on 250-350ml water for a worthy and delicious first infusion, and 1-2 minutes for a second and third infusion each, adding another minute for each further infusion. This way, our Spring Zheng Shan Imperial Rou Gui will produce four to five full value infusions.
Storability: When exposed to air, medium to strong roasted Oolong teas can be stored at dry conditions for at least 2-3 years without any significant loss of taste or quality. After that, they will gradually lose taste with time. However, provided dry storage conditions, they won’t become unpalatable even after longer storage periods of 5 years and beyond.