Monday, August 29, 2016

Jip Eu Chinatown shop Horsehead Rock Rou Gui

This tea is everything some people love and some people hate about Wuyi Yancha  (roasted oolongs from Fujian, China).  It's quite dark roasted, for sure.  Even the dry tea smell is earthy with lots of sweetness and complexity, leather and dark woods over mineral tones.

The first infusion was intense, more of the same, great sweetness, all the range of flavors from the scent, and of course a bit of char.  It is a familiar combination that I love.  For a favorite tea type it's much easier to put it on a range, compare it to others, even though I've only drank that one atypical Wuyi Yancha recently (a Shi Li Xian, here).  That tea was from the same Bangkok Chinatown shop, Jip Eu, the version I bought when they gave me this sample (full disclosure:  the sample was included free).

looks kind of oxidized, but I think extra roasting changed the color

The tea is quite good; flavors are clean and pronounced, the balance and range is right, for a darker roast.  It's so dark that a hint of the roast effect from French Roast coffee starts to come across, that mix of dark toffee sweetness and hint of bitterness.

Some people don't like darker roasted versions but that's a different thing, personal preference.  Some even say that darker roasting processing is most typically used to cover flaws in teas, or mask blending types, but I'm not so sure.  It seems level of roast is a style preference to some extent, although of course nothing is ever so simple as that.  This would be a different tea if roasted lighter, better for some, potentially better for me backed off a little, but this is what it is.

Lately a friend gave the feedback that I'm describing teas in too many ways that could be read as positive or negative, and my subjective impression of a tea doesn't always come across, if I actually like it.  Oddly I get the impression that can still apply when I explicitly state "I like it."  But again, for this tea, I like it.  I love good Wuyi Yancha and this is that; clean and complex, sweet with lots of great flavors (dark wood, toffee, mineral, maybe even leather).  The better types are quite clean in effect, with the right flavors and other aspects pronounced, and this one is good.

same tea, with leaves spread out a bit

I don't expect lots of transition across infusions from the tea; where would it go?  The relative strengths of those aspects could shift, maybe a hint of something already closely related could join in.  It's interesting considering the tea related to type, as a Rou Gui versus a Da Hong Pao or Shui Xian (or whatever else).  A year ago I was drinking a lot more of those so the typical aspects per type may have been clearer, but to some extent the teas vary more by quality and preparation style than type, and vary by specific version for characteristics.  Or so it seems to me.

For example, last year I tried an excellent Rou Gui from my tea-maker friend Cindy Chen that was unusually fruity, in the peach range, while those might more typically have dominant aspects in a spice range (along with earthiness and mineral, common across the general category).  Rou Gui translates as "cinnamon," but it's not like the case with Dan Cong names where the tea really is named after a supposed primary taste, although it must have been related.

Per conventional wisdom aging it a year or two would diminish the char effect.  As occurs with other tea types the characteristics that some people don't like come across better and make a lot more sense in the better versions.  You can't miss it in this tea but to me it integrates well with the rest of the aspects range.

This might be a great gateway tea for someone that loves cinder-dark French Roast coffee, even though that's a crazy idea, that this could work as a starter tea.  It's as close as a tea is going to get to French roast coffee, although that 40 year old Tie Kuan Yin I tried at this shop actually did taste a little like coffee, surely related to both roast and aging effect.

I liked even lesser versions of such teas, back when I started on them some years back.  Better versions have much cleaner flavors, and good sweetness, a toffee like quality that pulls the earthy and mineral tones together.  Some are very aromatic, staring towards a brandy or cognac effect, and this takes a small step in that direction.  It could be just a little more aromatic, or have a slightly fuller feel, so to me it's quite nice tea but those secondary aspects leave just a little room for improvement.  To put it on a scale, it's still well beyond the grade you could hope to walk into a random shop and find, with level of roast the other limiting factor for preference, too dark-roasted for people who don't like that style.

It does just fade over infusions, softening some, but it was soft to begin with, just rich and full.  The flavors range doesn't change, much.  The char eases up, letting the dark wood / leather / toffee stand out more, and the longer infusions pull out more mineral character.  The flavors stay clean, positive,  and well balanced through lots and lots of infusions; a good sign.

nice view, nice smelling rocks

As far as which rocks it tastes like I'm really at a loss.  It's not the lighter limestone / flint / shale range more common in teas from Taiwan; it's not the red sandstone / red clay mineral range more common in Ceylon (Sri Lankan teas).   Back in my rock climbing youth I had my nose pressed against some completely vertical walls of stone, in different US states, but I wasn't thinking about how those cliffs might taste in a tea.

dark!  greenish-black, heavy on roasting

I'm reminded of how some vacations are about exploring new places and activities, and others are about going somewhere very familiar to repeat past experiences, to enjoy that extra level of comfort.  All that recent pu'er exploration was challenging but rewarding for covering new ground.  Drinking this tea was like meeting an old friend;  no surprises, just picking up where we'd last left off.

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