I believe that most of you are familiar with MarshalN's recent project (e.g., http://www.marshaln.com/2012/09/curated-sample-1/). Even though I do not drink nearly as much wulongs as I used to, I thought it might be a very interesting opportunity so I went for it. I do enjoy roasted wulongs much more than greener ones so I was looking forward to observing my favourite process as it progresses.
For those who have not read about Curated samples, this serie is 5 Tie Guan Yins - the same material, but roasted for 0,15,30,45 and 59 hours.
I'll just show you the pictures (green goes first) and mention what I thought when drinking - I do not have enough wulong experience to make any big claims.
By the way, I used the following procedure - steep 3g of tea in 150ml for 5 minutes, then move it into cups.
Although it seems there is little difference in color between 30-59 (it is little, actually), the aroma is clearly different, and, of course, the taste is. If you roast chicken for 20 minutes or for 20 minutes + several hours of slow cooking, they will both look quite similar, but the quality will be very different, obviously.
Aroma of dry leaves:
0 - a rather classical green TGY, floral, with a bit of cinnamon
15 - smells quite strongly roasted and darker.
30 - baked chestnuts appear, maybe some of freshly baked gingerbread? I don't know and it matters little. The difference is there.
45 - some "burnedness" appears. At this stage, it starts to resemble the Ali Shan I wrote about a long time ago (at least from the point of view of this blog) and loved. However, my passsion for that has been shared by precious few.
60 - the "burnedness" is smoother, the tea smells dark, sweet and fiery.
Pictures of the liquor:
The progression of colors is much more obvious here.
0 - a generic green Tie Guan Yin - very flowery (acacia, lily of the valley), fresh and sweet, with a bit of cinnamon. There is no sharpness found at the end - some TGYs do have a weird "sharp green" aspect to them. Overall, it's one of better green TGYs I have had, although I have little fancy for it. On the other hand, I don't quite understand the number of people bashing green TGY for being awful just because it is simple to appreciate, girls tend to like it and it is not the "traditional" thing.
15 - just as MarshalN said, this is probably darker than what you commonly get as "strongly roasted, traditional Tie Guan Yin". And it's better too. It is interestingly similar to the 0 in sweetness and smoothness, but the floral taste is more or less gone, the roasting/baking taste is there instead of it. However, the green and roasted components are really not together. The roastedness gives the tea a touch of smoky taste, but in a very positive way.
30 - There is still the strange conflict between the former "green" taste and the roast. A good "mini-wildfire" happens in mouth when drinking this. When you light up some gas, it briefly burns out and when I swallow this Tie Guan Yin, there is a "brief explosion" of certain fiery aspect of the tea too. I guess it's easier to recognize that than to describe it. It is remotely similar to tingling found in puerh.
The aftertaste starts offering good roasted tones. It is also a lot longer than the aftertaste of previous teas.
45 - It is, again, smoother and sweeter than the previous one (but the sweetness changes, it's not only its amout, but its quality). Certain "caramelized burnedness" finally dominates the green taste aspect which is nearly completely gone by now. The taste is allright, but the best comes after it - the aftertaste is long and good. It's like a finish of good whiskey. It really is similar to that Ali Shan I wrote about a year ago.
59 - the strongest of all. With the greenness gone, there is no conflict and there is deep, fiery and sweet liquor - I believe I understand what is ment by that this is the "finished product". The "mini-wildfire" is the strongest in this one too. I like it very much overall, just as I liked that Ali Shan. However, it is very different from what is usually sold here as Tie Guan Yin, even the "heavily roasted".
I think that the tea is a bit of an acquired taste. My whiskey and cognac friends did enjoy the tea as I did, as well as few other people. However, it was "burnt" or "weird" for the rest (I guess that several people just needed their favourite vendor to tell them that this is the real deal and that big tea bosses and 150 years old HK tea masters drink that).
My thanks to MarshalN for giving me the opportunity to observe the roasting process as it gradually transforms tea. These "themed" sets are really one of the best ways how one can learn about tea.