Aged Rou Gui (2009)
Aged Rou Gui (2009)
An absolutely exquisite yan cha (rock tea) from the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian Province. Charcoal roasted and meticulously aged (with a new, light roasting each year) for a decade. A delightful aroma of cinnamon (rou gui, in Mandarin) and a strong-bodied minerality make this tea a true wonder.
This tea is a real stunner and one of the most purely delicious teas we sell. And it is also one of the most complex from the point of view of processing. Making a tea like this requires almost superhuman skill, precision, patience, and stamina — a ten year arc from farm to cup. First, the outermost bud and three leaves are picked from the plant during a very narrow window of time in early May (based on the tea master’s trained judgment and intuition). They are then slowly withered in the sun until they are at the exact right level of softness and pliability. Then they are laid out in trays and shaken. This bruises them and initiates the oxidation process, which, as with other oolongs, is very labor intensive (involving precise temperatures and humidity levels and several rounds of perfectly timed shaking and stirring — which also must be at the perfect level of intensity — to encourage sometimes faster, sometimes slower oxidation). When the tea master sees just the right amount of brownish-red on the edges of the leaf, it is time to stop oxidation by frying the tea on a very hot wok. At this point, the work has only just begun because the next step involves a very temperature- and time-precise, low-temperature charcoal roasting process involving several rounds of roasting with first month-long and then year-long and then 2-3 year-long resting periods between roasts. Each roast mellows and sweetens the flavor, adds a little smoke/charcoal, and brings out the true, rock-character of the plant in its natural habitat.
This 10 year-old Rou Gui is worth every bit of that work. It’s a miraculous product — refreshing, warming and cooling, enlivening and calming, and filled with a complex variety of flavors from cinnamon to chocolate to rock candy to rhubarb.