I hope that you, dear readers, will not mind if this blog takes a small detour from its puerh highway and takes a brief ramble (4-6 posts?) through the Wu Yi countryside. As much as I may seem to be a nymphomanic homosexual paedophile (I sure love puer and puer is boy in latin...), I sometimes do drink other sorts of tea.
Wu Yi wulongs have a special place in my heart. While I miss many puerh features in other sorts of tea (except other heicha), the Wu Yi wulongs have good substitutes for these and so I feel happy and almost complete if I drink them. I used to be terribly keen on other sorts of wulong earlier. I had a lot of Taiwanese wulongs, a lot of tea from Dan Cong and a nontrivial amount from Anxi. However, the evolution is unforgiving and more and more time slots for drinking tea were captured by puerh, no doubt due to its special outside-taste properties.
While taiwanese and Anxi wulongs can taste very good, there are only a few of them which would excite me enough to pay the big sums for high-quality specimen (I used to enjoy drinking cheap Anxi wulongs too, e.g., Mao Xie from YS, but there is not enough time for that now). I still sometimes brew a roasted TGY or Dong Ding in a big mug, but I can't fully concentrate on that.
The TGY from MarshalN is better than most other similar teas and I like to enjoy it in gongfu style from time to time. But show me a store for us, poor internet-reliant westerners, which would carry such a tea.
Dan Congs can taste great, especially if not too green (some like these too). Mi Lan wulong is generally a very pleasant and tasty tea. Even hongcha from Mi Lan cultivar can taste great (the one sold by Jingteashop/Longfeng is very, very tasty in my opinion). I think I liked Dan Cong tea the most, when I started with tea. After tasting what was sold here from Jingteashop, I even bought a reasonably big sampler from Imen at teahabitat and there were some very tasty teas to be had, no doubt. However, with time, my excitement slowly vanished. I still can drink good Dan Cong (which is not cheap though) and appreciate its taste, but in general, I miss the mouthfeel/bodyfeel/qi of puerh. I don't think it's that I drank too little Dan Cong tea, I think I had more than hundred gallons, over the years; I just don't feel the buzz of the genre. Not even from aged Dan Cong.
I neglected Wu Yi yancha for a long time, because there was no good Wu Yi tea to try, only lower classes lacking sweetness. Now, the situation seems to improve, with Jingteashop's Yancha brought here by Longfeng (and, I might add, with less-than-astronomic margin, that's good!). Anyway, such an option was not here back then and as one can't directly order from Jingteashop, the options were limited. But after trying some Wu Yi tea from other shops abroad, I felt intrigued - I felt that this was a type of wulong I could enjoy very much. And when Nada sent me a sample of his Tie Luo Han along an order, I knew I'll have to try more yancha from him eventually. And the time has come...
Today, I'll start with two cheaper yanchas which Essence of tea offers: The 2010 half-handmade Rou Gui and the 2010 handmade version. "Cheaper" is relative, as all of the Wistaria cakes I wrote about recently are cheaper, per gram, and they are not really an example of cheap puerh...
I was curious to see the difference between handmade and half-handmade. Handmade tea is the wet dream of many tea drinkers, it seems. I do not really care. Whether the tea has been made by a famous tea master, by little mermaids, or in fully mechanized factory, the resulting tea is what matters to me. I take the "handmade" declaration as a supporting statement for the fact that the material was good enough to go through the difficult process of making by hand (and having full control over the process). It's funny, I'm reading some novels from 19th century and the people seemed to be excited by the prospect of having machine-made dress, as it was of higher quality than usual handmade stuff. Times have changed, I guess (and machines improved, by the way). Of course, it's a sexy story to read how the tea you bought comes from a single batch of 10 kg and it is produced by a renowned tea master, compared to a factory tea of which tons were made. Nevertheless, I think it's better to drink tea, rather than stories.
All that said, I enjoyed the handmade Rou Gui more.
2010 Half-handmade Rou Gui
Rou Gui is one of lighter wulongs from Wu Yi and both Rou Guis from EoT support that.
I went for the porcelain bamboo set, which seems to go nicely with yancha:
I think I'm not spoiling any secret when I say that the leaves look and smell good. The aroma seems fruity-nutty, with some apple-with-cinnamon and plums.
The wet leaves have a relatively rich aroma of sweetness, apples with cinnamon, floralness (that "dark green" yancha sort) and some fire. It smells rather green indeed, for yancha.
The taste lasts long and has a most pleasant caramel sweetness (strengthened by water from tea stove). Upon the sweetness, there is dark green floralness (baked), some apples with cinnamon and maybe a bit of coconut? It may not be the most exciting or surprising taste, but it is good.
An important feature is that the tea dies away gracefully. Lower-class yancha seems to develop unpleasant "burnt green" tastes towards the end of the session, while this Rou Gui is good the whole time until it produces nothing but sweet water.
While the tea is not as fiery as it probably was, when it was produced, there is still some fire in the aftertaste and mouthfeel. The activity is good, as is the qi - a feature which seem seldom seen to me, in the realm of wulongs.
The stamina seems good to me (circa 6 120ml steepings from 3.5g?).
The (miserably focused, sorry, forgot to turn manual focus off) picture of leaves shows that the tea has some seriously green leaves indeed:
2010 Handmade Rou Gui
It is obviously a similar kind of tea so I'll concentrate on the differences from the half-handmade version.
The aroma is darker, deeper, more powidl-like and the aroma of apples with cinnamon seems stronger to me. All these goodnesses took the place of some dark greeness, a castling I enjoy very much.
Stove water loves yancha and yancha loves stove water...
The liquor is a bit thicker than the of half-handmade version and somewhat darker (not so much in color as in the taste), with more dark plums and that apples with cinnamon taste (the cinnamon is especially strong in an empty cup).
The fire in the aftertaste is lovely and cooling, while not being overpowering.
I enjoyed this handmade version more than the half-made, especially for its larger depth and darkness.