Of all the Wuyi oolong cultivars, it seems the one that I can never manage to muster much of a reaction to is Rou Gui. I think part of that is the fact that it is so common. At the moment, Rou Gui is an extremely popular cultivar both in China and abroad. Every vendor seems to offer at least one Rou Gui variant each year. The cultivar, itself, has become so popular that I have seen it referred to as “the fifth bush;” its popularity with tea drinkers apparently rivals that of Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Luohan, and Bai Ji Guan.
This particular Rou Gui is a product of Li Xiangxi, a tea farmer whose portfolio of offerings through Verdant Tea I really admire. Part of why I appreciate her work is that she tends to avoid the increasingly popular heavy roasts in order to let the natural aromas and flavors of the cultivars with which she works shine and to allow drinkers to appreciate the unique terroir from which her teas come. This particular tea seems to go against her processing philosophy. Though it is labeled as a medium roast tea, I found the roast to be quite heavy and overbearing. It obscured the natural spiciness of the Rou Gui cultivar.
I prepared this tea gongfu style. After a quick rinse, I steeped 6 grams of loose tea leaves in 4 ounces of 205 F water for 4 seconds. This infusion was chased by 13 additional infusions. Steep times for these infusions were as follows: 7 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 25 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes.
Prior to the rinse, I noted that the dry tea leaves produced heavy aromas of char, smoke, and dark wood. There was also a hint of elderberry. After the rinse, an orchid-like floral aroma emerged, as did aromas of huckleberry and spice. The first infusion produced a similar aroma, though I was able to detect an earthiness and tobacco as well. In the mouth, heavy flavors of elderberry, dark wood, char, tobacco, and smoke mingled with more subtle notes of ginger, cinnamon, orchid, and huckleberry. Subsequent infusions began to draw out mineral notes, as well as aromas and flavors of caramel, raisin, black pepper, and clove. The later infusions displayed the expected Wuyi minerality both on the nose and in the mouth, though I could still detect fleeting impressions of caramel, char, smoke, raisin, tobacco, and wood with a hint of mild ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon spiciness.
This tea managed to be resilient, deep, and complex, though the overall aroma and flavor profiles were not much to my liking. I felt like the roast was too heavy, obscuring the spice, flower, and fruit notes of which I would have liked to see more. So, while there may have been a lot going on with this tea, it all seemed to be somewhat out of balance. Though I tend to admire Li Xiangxi’s work, I cannot help feeling that she lost the thread with this one. My search continues for a Rou Gui that really speaks to me. I think fans of heavier roasts may get some satisfaction out of this one, but it was not for me.
Flavors: Black Pepper, Caramel, Char, Cinnamon, Clove, Dark Wood, Fruity, Ginger, Huckleberry, Mineral, Orchid, Raisins, Smoke, Tobacco