Handmade Rou Gui
Rock Wulong Tea 2018
Handmade Rou Gui is a traditionally charcoal roasted rock wulong made entirely by hand. It has a rich floral and cassia aromas, a deep, strong flavor with notes of dark chocolate, and a lightly sweet and mineral aftertaste. An exemplary handcrafted traditional rock wulong.
- Tea Origin
- Wu Yi Mountain, Fujian Province
- Tea Bush
- Camellia sinensis var. sinensis "Rou Gui"
- Tea Master
- Zhou You Sheng
- Harvest Time
- May 4th through May 12th
- Picking Standard
- 1 bud 3 leaves (San Ye Yi Xin)
Handmade Rou Gui is an entirely handcrafted and traditional charcoal roasted rock wulong tea from the Wu Yi Mountains in Fujian Province. Named for its distinctive rich aroma reminiscent of cassia or cinnamon, Rou Gui is one of the most popular cultivars of tea bush grown in the Wu Yi Mountains today. Depending on how much the tea leaves are oxidized and roasted during processing, a skilled tea master can bring out more floral or more fruity notes in the final aroma of this versatile rock wulong tea. This tea is on the more floral side of Rou Gui’s character. It also possesses a deep, strong flavor with subtle notes of dark chocolate and a sweet, mineral aftertaste that lingers in the throat long after the tea is swallowed.
While the Rou Gui bush originated elsewhere in Fujian Province, it flourished when transplanted to the Wu Yi Mountains. Rou Gui is a very robust cultivar of tea bush that produces lots of leaves and is hardy in extremes of both heat and cold. Because of these characteristics, in combination with the good taste and aroma of the tea produced from it, the Chinese government strongly promoted this cultivar in the 1980’s. As a result, Rou Gui now occupies a third of all Wu Yi Mountain tea gardens.
Making Handmade Rou Gui
Our Handmade Rou Gui is only harvested within a very small window of the growing season. It is plucked only between May 4th through May 12th, although the window may shift slightly depending on the year’s weather and how fast the bushes grow. This tea is plucked at a plucking standard of 1 bud and three leaves at a particular stage of growth known as San Ye Yi Xin. At this stage, the last bud is just barely beginning to open. This is slightly younger than the leaves used for most rock wulongs, like our standard Rou Gui. Regular Rou Gui is plucked at the national standard of Zhong Kai Mian, where the last leaf has opened and grown to half the size of the leaf next to it on the stem. Using the younger San Ye Yi Xin leaves for Handmade Rou Gui develops a richer and more creamy aroma in the final tea. While most tea producers now pluck their tea by machine to increase efficiency and lower the costs of labor, Handmade Rou Gui is plucked entirely by hand to avoid hurting the delicate leaves. For high quality rock wulongs like this, the leaves must remain whole and unbroken.
Once plucked, the leaves wither under the sunshine on top of an expanse of cotton fabric until they become soft and pliable. This ensures that the leaves, which are quite crisp when freshly plucked, will not break while being processed in subsequent steps. While most rock wulongs are withered in the heat of midday so that they wither quickly, our producers wait until the weather has cooled in the late afternoon. The leaves wither for around two hours from 4 to 6 p.m. for a more delicate processing, and are intermittently stirred to ensure that they wither evenly.
Once withered, the leaves are spread on a r0und bamboo trays one meter in diameter in batches of 1.5 kg per tray. At this point, the tea master will begin the very delicate oxidation process. To do this by the traditional tray-shaking method, the tea master will take each tray and carefully shake the leaves on it 20 times in order to begin bruising the withered leaves. Bruising the leaf this way breaks open some of its cells while preserving the whole unbroken leaf. This speeds up the natural oxidation process by exposing the oxidation-causing enzymes inside the leaves so that they react with the oxygen in the air. After shaking, the tea master stacks the trays in a warm room indoors around 25°C (77°F) to let the oxidation process continue. Once 30-50 minutes have passed, depending on the progress of the oxidation, the tea master will shake the leaves on the tray a second time, this time for 30 shakes. Again and again, the leaves are allowed to rest, and then shaken again, shaking for longer each time. In the last 8th round of shaking, the leaves are shaken around 80-100 times.
Making rock wulong tea by hand like this in the traditional method requires an incredibly skilled tea master with lots of experience and stamina, particularly for the oxidation step. At each step of processing, the tea master must ascertain whether the tea is ready to be moved to the next step, judging only by very subtle changes in the leaves. It is common for a tea master to rely entirely on the sensitivity of their hands, nose, and eyes to detect minute differences in the feel, aroma, and appearance of the leaves. One of the most critical decisions is determining when to stop the oxidation process in order to give a wulong tea its defining partially oxidized character. When the tea has reached this point, the edges of the green leaves begin turning red, a visible sign of oxidation occurring.
Frying and drying
Once the tea master gives the signal that the oxidation is done, the leaves will be hand-fried in a hot dry wok around 230°C (446°F) to destroy the enzymes that cause oxidation. Where most machine-processed teas are fried in batches of 30 kg (66 lbs) or more at higher temperatures, Handmade Rou Gui is fried in small batches of 1-4 kg (2-9 lbs).
After frying, the still-hot leaves are kneaded by hand on another bamboo tray into their distinctive long twisted wulong shape. The leaves are then quickly dried in an oven, resulting in unfinished wulong maocha with the stem sprigs still attached. Tea sorters remove the sprigs from the maocha before the tea goes on to charcoal roasting.
For the first traditional charcoal roast, the tea is roasted at a relatively low temperature of 85-100°C (185-212°F) for 8-15 hours, depending on the weather. Then, the tea must be given a one-month break to rest. This dissipates some of the strong charcoal scent that the leaves acquire during roasting, and allows the flavor to develop evenly throughout the leaves. After their rest, the leaves are roasted a second time at a higher temperature for a shorter time to develop the tea’s aroma and flavor. They are roasted at around 120°C (250°F) for only 8 hours. Immediately following the second charcoal roasting, the tea master will brew some of the freshly roasted leaves to see how the tea has developed and to determine whether it is finished, or whether it needs to be given another break and then charcoal roasted a third time. Once all the roasting is done, the leaves should only retain 7% moisture.
Handmade Rou Gui is an excellent choice for tea drinkers seeking a high-quality charcoal roasted rock wulong tea made by hand by traditional methods. This tea showcases the fine quality that even familiar cultivars like Rou Gui can achieve when made with great care and skill. Enjoy the rich flavor and full aroma of this carefully crafted rock wulong tea.
No chemical fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide was used in the production of this tea. Click here to read more about our promise to fair trade and the environment.
Handmade Rou Gui 2018 brewing guidelines
Teaware: 12 oz. glass, porcelain or yixing clay pot
Amount: 1 Tbs of tea leaves
Water: 212°F (boiling) filtered water
Infusion: First infusion at least 1 minute. The leaves are good for 5 infusions.