Rou Gui – Wuyi Oolong

November 13, 2011

Rou Gui is one of those teas that didn’t wow me right away and even trying multiple types and years has never won me over… but, on a cold November evening something made me reach for it tonight and I’m so glad I did! I think a lot of my initial disappointment was due to expecting or hunting for a cinnamon flavor that is just never there. Without directly expecting cinnamon and just letting it stand on its own I was able to appreciate the tea itself for what it is, and that is an exceptional Wuyi Oolong.

Maybe it was psychological or maybe it was the brewing (in a very small glass gaiwan with a generous amount of leaf) but I had distinct hints of cinnamon! I guess you find what you are after when you aren’t looking. I’m glad I revisited this tea and I highly recommend trying some for yourself!

GSI Backpacking Kettle Field Report

January 24, 2010

A little while back I wrote a short piece on a new GSI backpacking tea kettle I had received (Original Post) and while I had done a couple tests in the comforts of my home, today I got to use it for real. I love rainy days so a rare ~50F degree winter day promising steady rains might not spark much excitement in the normal person, but to me this meant a great day for hiking! I never claimed to be normal. Rain normally spoils most hikes, but for me I would rather hike in the rain than the sunniest of days. Good rain gear is essential, but it’s not that hard to do. A Marmot Precip lightweight rain jacket over a fleece and synthetic long-sleeved t-shirt and some polypropylene long-underwear under a pair of nylon zip-off pants, and my North Face Surge daypack and I’m off. I brought along the GSI kettle and my Coleman F1 Ultralight stove with a small canister of Jetboil fuel… and most importantly some Song Zhong Dan Cong. The darker flavor with hints of peach would be perfect after a few hours of cold and wet hiking.

After about 5 miles I found a small wooden bench along the trail which would be the perfect spot to test out the kettle and down some tuna salad and crackers. I set up the stove and poured 16oz. of cool water into the kettle which rested perfectly stable on the diminutive backpacking stove. From the initial flame to boil was about 2 minutes, maybe 2.5 at most! That’s pretty fast! I brewed up some tea in my stainless steel mug as the rain poured down and the warmth of the mug was sublime on cold hands. The tea was exactly what I needed, and with about 8oz. of water left in the kettle I made a quick packet of Lipton chicken noodle soup. Belly warm and full I began to repack the gear for the journey homeward. The kettle was completely cool in just the short time it took me to drink the soup! A big bonus. The stove took a bit longer to cool down for packing. The only drawback was that when pouring the last of the water for the soup I had to tilt the kettle almost vertical and my initial concerns about the loose-fitting lid were correct, it would flop out if not held in place during pouring. They do have a nice rubberized handle on the lid to make this easy even with bare hands, but it just seems so unnecessary. I’ll probably make a small modification to have the lid fit snugly, but it really isn’t a major deal. When I repacked the small fuel canister, it felt barely used! Since the rain was picking up and the stove was still hot I decided to just heat another 10oz. of water for a second cup for the last 2 miles. Less than 2 minutes to the start of a boil, even with cold rain and wind! packed it all away and enjoyed the last leg while sipping some hot Song Zhong which made the miles seem like feet.

Completely happy with the performance and utility of this kettle in about as poor conditions as possible. Even after the second boil I would mistake the small canister for a fresh one! Almost no major fuel use which is a massive plus for this kettle. A great addition to the pack.

Lochan Tea Tasting – #2 Meghma Oolong 2009 Second Flush

November 3, 2009

#2 Meghma Oolong 2009 Second Flush

Dry Leaf: Autumn leaves. Since I am currently surrounded and drowning in orange and brown fallen leaves, I know it well.

Wet leaf: Bai Hao/Oriental Beauty with some edge of Puerh and faint wet Autumn leaf subtly at the end.

Brewed: Keemun instantly up front, a little malty, which turns quickly into an Oriental Beauty with very slight citrus no strong assertive notes popping out. Raw honey and very faint roasted almond on the breath at the very long end.

Small leaves unfurl into this mid roasted/fermented tea which sits between the greener oolongs and the more heavily fired and oxidized offerings. I wasn’t sure what to think with the overwhelming Autumn leaf scent of the freshly opened package that didn’t expose much else in the way of secrets. The instant the near-boil water kissed the leaf though it opened up into what hit me as a fairly standard Oriental Beauty oolong. The taste eventually went in that direction but the first hit of Keemun and the very long finish was quite welcome and gave it some added dimension. Minutes after the last sip there was a slight hint of those original Autumn leaves which followed the first finish of faint raw honey/roasted almond that appeared 20-30 seconds after the initial taste. A good tea in the Bai Hao/Oriental Beauty category, but nothing that would make this fit a category of its own or snap to the top of the one it comfortably sits in. The long finish is very relaxing and enjoyable which forces one to slow down and savor it to the end… and even a bit beyond.

Brewing Tea – Water, Temperature, and Time

October 15, 2009

I realize that to many tea brewing begins and ends with dunking a teabag into a mug of variably tepid/boiling water for an indeterminate amount of time and then adding in sugar and/or milk to mask the acrid brew that was just unleashed. I cringe when I see folks at cafes get handed a cup full of improperly heated water with a single-use tea strainer/bag in it and that is where it remains for the duration of the drink. No wonder people don’t get tea or think it needs to be doctored up in myriad ways to become palatable. There are other extremes of thermometers and timers and digital scales too, but as with anything, there is a balance. This post is meant to be a primer, not the final master class, and I plan to continue to cover this in increasing depth to help everyone realize that there is so much more to the world of tea and that it isn’t hard.

Water, Temperature, and Time

Water is one of the most important parts of the whole equation. You want to make sure the water is absent of any flavors or chemicals. Water that is poured from the little orange/red spout from coffee machines might be filtered but it also may have some hints of the coffee present. Water straight from a tap might have chlorine or sulphur. There are many options but two inexpensive options are to buy a simple faucet-mounted filter (Pur, Dupont, Brita, etc.)  or buy the 1, 3, or 5-gallon jugs or containers of spring water. Starting with a solid foundation is the only way to get a great final result.

Temperature can make the same tea brewed the same way taste completely different. Sometimes this range is a good thing and can allow for a range of flavors from the same leaf, sometimes too much heat can destroy a delicate tea. This is a topic that entire books could be written about, so what we are aiming for here is just a good reference point and we will dig into it in more detail in the future. There are also debates on how the water is heated: microwave, gas stove, electric kettle, etc. And while there is some merit to some of these arguments, for right now the method will be ignored and we will just focus on the final water temperature no matter how it got that way.

The basic rule goes like this:

Black tea – full boiling water or just off boil at the least

Oolong tea – small bubbles/almost boiling or boiling water that has been allowed to cool for a minute or so

Green tea – hot but not boiling, allow boiled water to cool for a few minutes before using. You should be able to touch the water without suffering a burn, not literally but as an illustration of the temp we are going for here.

Tisanes/Herbal tea – full boiling water, the hotter the better. This is not tea and as such you are trying to extract everything you can from the herb/flower.

As you can see, the one-size-fits-all orange/red coffee machine lever is not useful for almost anything but green tea and some oolongs. So if you are at a cafe or situation (like an office) where this is the only option, your best bet is to select a green tea or oolong and just make do.

Time is the other important piece in this equation. Again some teas allow for some variation here and will offer up different flavors and complexities depending on how short or long it is steeped, some will become undrinkable (bitter or astringent) if left for too long. Each particular tea within a larger category (green, black, etc.) will have an optimal time and temperature but again we are setting up the basics here.

I start from 30-45 seconds to about 1-2 minutes and an occasional tea will work well with 3-5 minutes, herbal/tisanes always go 3-5 minutes. Start shorter and then try longer brews and find your particular sweet spot for the specific tea. Some do well with even longer 3-5 minute brewings, some become bitter and too strong.  It is all about what tastes good to YOU, not what a package or “expert” states is correct. With the right water and temperature, you can experiment on time to find what works for you… but leaving the tea in the cup for 5+ minutes until you finish it is not really the proper solution for ANY tea.

Quality tea makes a huge difference as well as does the amount used. Start with a solid teaspoon’s worth of leaf if in doubt and adjust from there to your taste.


Yi Hong Jing Pin A – Teaspring

August 19, 2009

Yi Hong Jing Pin is said to have characteristics of Chinese red dates, which was an aroma I picked up from the Rou Gui yesterday, but outside of a basic sweet aroma I was not getting any of this. My initial notes were: Sweet. Fermented. Tobacco. Wood. As the hot water hit the leaves in my gaiwan I was presented with more of a smoky/wood scent coming off of the liquor. The instant flavor profile I was met with was that of Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) oolong but minus the sometimes present citrus note. Slightly malty and long after a very slight red date flavor is present in the back of the mouth.

While I can’t help but think that if I wanted bai hao oolong I would just brew some instead of going to a black tea to get almost the same result, there is something captivating here and it does make you want to explore it further. I personally do not like the citrus hints in Oriental beauty so this actually has an advantage in my personal tastes in that regard. It’s not super complex or noteworthy so it doesn’t really assert itself into a place in my favorites list but it is pleasant and interesting enough to finish what I have.

Rou Gui Oolong – Teaspring

August 18, 2009

Ahh… finally back to tea. My shipment arrived after the normal struggles with the USPS and their inability to grasp the concept of accepting the signed form *they* provide and the fact that most normal people are not home at 11AM to personally accept packages. I wish I was however. Regardless, I am now the happy owner of some teas in a totally new direction for me… red/black tea. I also snagged some Rou Gui because it is a tea I have heard a lot about but have never tried. So, I started with it.

Rou Gui is often spoken about as having cassia/cinnamon-like qualities which intrigued me, however the nose of the freshly opened packet was more of red dates. I wasn’t getting anything resembling cinnamon at all, in fact I wasn’t getting a whole lot of anything from the dry leaf. In my gaiwan I began to brew the tea and the initial aromas from my notes went like this: Citrus. Chamomile. Nestea Instant Iced Tea w/ Lemon.  The last one might seem strange but it was the perfect explanation of the scent, those pre-sweetened instant tea granules that come in the can have the exact aroma of what I was getting. As it brewed a bit longer the aroma changed abruptly to a green TGY and it lost those former notes completely.

The first sip was purely green oolong. Thin, watery, not very complex, not much of anything. Again, certainly no cinnamon. A bit of a letdown. I moved on to a second brewing to see if anything new might appear but unfortunately nothing did, more of the same. Pretty disappointing. It is a good tea for what it is but nowhere near what I had been expecting or hoping for, and since I’m not a big green oolong fan there was little for me to get excited about. I’ve not given up yet, though, and I will track down a more finely crafted version before giving up on it.

Top Roasted Tie Guan Yin – Tea Masters

December 22, 2008

Enough of the low-end stuff, let’s get back to the real deal. I can’t think of a better kick-start than Tea Masters’ Top Roasted Tie Guan Yin. It is from Shi Ping, Anxi, China and harvested Spring 2005… you absolutely cannot beat the amount, accuracy, and detail of info with Stephane’s teas. TGY is generally not in my normal rotation but the heavy roasting is what drew me to this one. I actually have been drinking and taking notes over some time with this one because it is a tough one to capture in words. One of my first thoughts was that this is the Energizer Bunny of tea, I have brewed over twelve steeps in a row and still not fully depleted this tea. It outlasts me even when I was determined to beat it. The heavy roasting is most likely to thank here as the leaves do not even begin to fully open until after 8-9 infusions.

Top Roasted TGY

Top Roasted TGY

As you can see it is a very dark fisted oolong mainly consisting of medium-sized leaf. It is so complex that words are going to fail this tea. The heavy roasting subdues most, if not all, floral notes and replaces it with charcoal, dark chocolate, raisin, snuff/tobacco, and a bit of burnt berry perhaps. The uniqueness is alluring and really draws you in to want to discover what lies ahead.

Top Roasted TGY Brew

Top Roasted TGY Brew

The first steep is my favorite, as odd as that may seem. I did the brewing in my Taiwanese tea tasting set. It brews to a pale goldenrod color with a purpleish/red tint that I find amazing. This is almost fully the roasting itself brewed here but I love it. It encapsulates all of the dry notes but in a much different balance than I would have imagined. It is muted with the charcoal/roasted flavors taking center stage but with a background of berry and more traditional TGY. From here the steeps slowly evolve into more and more golden color and a more standard TGY flavor but keeping the florals hidden until 6-7 steeps where they just begin to push through. It never gets weak even in the late rounds and as I stated before I have yet to take it to its final throes.

For myself this tea showed me a new side to TGY that I had never encountered before, and while it eventually gave way to the floral and greener notes which aren’t my favorite the run up to that point was nothing but sheer pleasure and due to the gradual nature of the transformation I warmed up to them. For a TGY fan I could not imagine a better journey unless you want the full floral/green flavors right from the start. Again I am amazed by Stephane’s teas and this was a true treat.