Welcome to 2009! To finish off the recent series of Wuyi Yen Cha posts, I've got tasting notes for our Rou Gui (which we call Wuyi Cassia). I'll do my best to keep this post a little less long-winded than the Da Hong Pao tasting notes, but sometimes nerdy tea enthusiasm exceeds my restraint! As I mentioned in the introductory post, Rou Gui is both a "tea type" and a genetically unique cultivar of the tea plant. Although Rou Gui isn't one of the four famous Wuyi oolong cultivars (known in Chinese as the Si Da Ming Cong--Da Hong Pao, Shui Jin Gui, Tie Lo Han and Bai Ji Guan), it is certainly one of the more common varieties and is often served at restaurants alongside Shui Xian as a popular table tea. In spite of its popularity, it's still very much possible to find premium examples that stand up to elite gong fu grades of the Si Da Ming Cong.
The dry leaves aren't too different in appearance from those of the Da Hong Pao--nice big, whole leaves. They're perhaps a bit darker with a little more contrast between the frosting and leaf color. Smelling the leaves after the first infusion, I notice that the roast seems a bit more dominant than with the Da Hong Pao. Similarly to the other tea, though, the roast in the aroma diminishes after a couple of infusions. If I had to use one word to contrast this tea with the Da Hong Pao, I'd use "darker." The heavier roast is immediately apparent, and the characteristic Rou Gui flavor takes slightly more effort to appreciate. It's there, though--"Rou Gui" is often translated as cinnamon or cassia--as the roasting character diminishes over the 2nd and 3rd infusions, a delightfully dark spiciness emerges. This tea's acidity is nowhere near as pronounced as the Da Hong Pao's is, and the body tends to be a bit fuller as well. Later infusions produce a balanced but fading combination of roast and spice, with the expected astringency getting my mouth watering. Compared with the Da Hong Pao's high and penetrating notes, this Rou Gui's full, round and dark bottom makes for a pleasant contrast.
Examining the spent leaves shows some similarities with the Da Hong Pao--leaves alternate between very dark to slightly greener, but there are many large examples to be found. Our staff's reaction has been split between these two teas--to me, that's a sign that they're both good! Personally, my tastes gravitate a bit toward the slightly lighter roast (you can see below that the Rou Gui's leaves are more blistered than the Da Hong Pao's), but the full body and darkness of the Rou Gui makes for an excellent and comforting winter warmer!