06 February 2008

Rou Gui and misc thoughts on yan cha

Yan cha é mobile, qual piuma al vento

I brewed this rou gui as naturally as I could, via second nature rather than contrived monitoring of process. Although I try to brew every tea this way, I have limited success with yan cha. Of all teas, yan cha and dan cong pose a challenge to me as tea brewer, whether attempting to brew them naturally or otherwise.

They change with the weather. The humidity rises or drops 5%, and they change character. They demand of me!

Brewing pu'er always came to me naturally, like when I learned Spanish, but brewing yan cha is like learning classical Latin. Whereas slowly, I became more conversant in Spanish until it fell out of my mouth and spoke itself in my thoughts, and slowly I refined my pu'er brewing until I felt that I could carry any conversation with that tea, I stumble to decline and conjugate my yan cha. I've tried both the Occidental scientific approach with scales and timers, but spent more time cultivating a meta-sensibility about brewing the tea. In both cases, my efforts regularly came up short.

Traditional Rou Gui - dry leaf
Traditional Rou Gui, Dry Leaves in Qing Dynasty Saucer

Occasionally, I managed to decant a good infusion--rarer yet, complete a good session!--of yan cha. The problem I encounter: leaves yield good flavors too lightly or dump out unsavory flavors too strongly. I seek to find the middle. Yan cha is my current personal challenge. Those who know it well have offered me some very useful guidance about how to approach the tea: don't use standard amounts of leaf, use more, and stop when the pot is fragrant with dry leaf. Their insight has helped, but not enough--yet.

Don't get me started on dan cong. I suspect that dan cong is the last boss in my tea journey.

Traditional Rou Gui - brewed
Traditional Rou Gui, First Infusion in Ming Guo cup and Late Qing Saucer
Next to My Pretty Pretty Pot.

This rou gui started so well: pumpkin spice flavors with a buttered toast finish, luxurious scent, just a hint of florals. The wet leaves smelled plummy. It got sweeter, florals got stronger, but the pumpkin spice--the cinnamon of this "cinnamon" oolong--disappeared. Still pleasant and lingering, the middle was gone. High notes of florals and a deep bass of grain, but no middle. Hui gan alkaline and mouth-watering. Good qi, but progressively flatter and flatter in flavor, until by infusions 5 and 6, the tea struck only high notes and nearly died, castrato.

Traditional Rou Gui - spent leaf
Emerald Leaves Red with Oxidation. Pretty!

I blame myself. I have read good reviews of this tea by people who know Wuyi tea more intimately than me. I have enough leaves left for one more brewing of this tea, two in my smallest gaiwan.

Any tips?


MarshalN said...

Where did said tea come from?

Methinks it's not so traditional -- leaves are really green!

I won't expect much from a rougui after 5-6. All you'll get is some sweetness after that...

Jason Fasi said...

It's from JTS. VL really likes it.

vl. said...

Yes, I liked it. But had a small sample last time I drank it. And you should know that whatever I say, I really like Rou Gui. Oh and this reminds me... I need to get some of this.

The fact that the tea dies so quickly might be quite complicated, as you mention. Really depends on temperature of the water, the water, and the pot. This is the big problem with Wuyi I suppose... the multitude of parameters... but hey, is there a solution?


Imen said...

This looks medium roast to me. It's showing 30 red and 70% green. It's dark green enough without bubbles, which why I think it's medium roast to enhance the floral note. It's not light green enough to qualify as Qing Xiang either. But I may be wrong.

Try 2/3 of a gaiwan, off boil for first brew, under 20 sec. 90 degree C for other brews, 20 to 30 sec. Longer steep if greener than medium roast.

Rock tea usually last 7 brews, heavy roasted teas last less than that. Old bushes last 10 brews.