Seven Days of Seven Cups, Day 5 – “Searching for the Cinnamon in Rou Gui”
Rou Gui holds the distinction of being the first—and a long time ago, only— Wuyi oolong I liked when I first got started. Of course, in the last year or so, my palate has since Stockholmed its way into acceptance of most Wuyi oolongs, but Rou Gui will always be the first that opened the floodgates. Part of that might be in the name; Rou Gui literally means “cassia” in Chinese, which is a type of local cinnamon—Cinnamomum cassia.
This is the first Wuyi oolong I’ve sipped this week that didn’t have a name that sounded like a call-back to a piece of Hong Kong cinema. Curious that a bunch of folks in the Qing Dynasty would want to name a plant for . . . another plant, instead of tea drunk, kung fu monks or Taoist wizards. I wonder why that is? Let’s dig into the tea itself to find out.
Rou Gui grades are determined (at least, from what little I gather) leaf quality and how many roasts they undergo. Seven Cups carries two Rou Guis, both by the same farmer. This one—the Imperial Rou Gui—underwent two roastings, the other went through three. This dude must really love his work.
But back to the finished product . . .
I give up.
If I was viewing all of these Wuyi oolongs blind—and by that, I mean, no labels—I don’t think I could identify them by leaf alone. This looked exactly like the Tie Luo Han from the last article. I even had to look at the pictures again and compare. Same leaf cut, leaf shape, and leaf color; no deviation. As per usual, the difference lay in the aromatic delivery. Instead of raisins, or “life-choices-reconsideration” Dan Cong notes, this was what I thought of when the words “Wuyi rock oolong” entered the conversation. Or at least, what I considered a good rock oolong back then. Y’know, before my fickle palate up and changed its mind about them . . . like a presidential candidate.
It smelled roasty, mineral-like and just . . . really pleasant. There was even a floral bend on the back-whiff. As if, “essence-of-a-comforting-furry-electric-blanket” was made into a scratch-‘n-sniff sticker.
When brewed liquor brewed up to the same soft amber I was used to seeing thus far this week. The steam smelled of . . . wait a minute . . .
Where’s the roast? Where’re the rocks? Okay, now I need to sip this. Something’s amiss.
Okay, this is weird. My tongue was greeted by straight stone fruit on the forefront. Usually, the graphite and burning come first with these Wuyi beasts, but this time? NOPE. Sure, those notes finally appeared in the top note and trail-off, followed by a gentle, roasty lean on the way down. But for the majority of this sipping session, it was forest-‘n-fruit. The finish was where all of the yancha usual suspects finally said, “We’re still here.”
If this tea had one disadvantage, it’s that—when subjected to a gongfoolish style—successive infusions lost color rather quickly.
Steeps two through four were considerably lighter than the ones that preceded it. And I only upped the “leaf swim time” by a mere ten seconds. However, the flavor still held up, imparting notes of baked nut bread and—in an unusual twist—saffron! Of all the flowers in all the world.
So . . . in closing . . . my tongue experienced a lot of wonderfully weird things. Can’t say “cinnamon” was among ‘em. Just another really delicious Rou Gui. That’s a helluva consolation prize, if you ask me.
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