2011 Rou Gui from Shanghai

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective, but I’m recording it here as well for posterity.

This tea came from Ming Qiu Cha Yuan, a shop in a Shanghai tea market. Pumpkin orange in the cup, there’s a lot of Autumn in this tea. A fairly strong roast to the leaves gives much of the Wuyi oolong character to this tea, although there’s a subtle sweetness and fruitiness that lies just under the surface. In fact, the more I think of pumpkins, the more similarities I can see. Mouth-filling and full with a starchy texture and a creamy sweetness behind the earthiness of a harvest field, this 肉桂茶 makes quite an impression on this rainy October afternoon.

The name of the tea means “cinnamon bark”, perhaps referring to the wonderful aromatic roast of this tea. When I arrived in China, however, I was only vaguely aware of this particular Wuyi oolong. The first character, Ròu, when used by itself can mean “meat”, and when I first encountered a shop selling this tea I was more than a little repulsed by the idea of a “meat tea”. Reassured by my friend that Ròuguì has no connection to dead animals, I was pleasantly surprised to find this mysterious tea which seems to lean back and forth between the depth of Da Hong Pao (大红袍) and the sweetness of Feng Huang Dan Cong (凤凰单丛).

The shop in which we found this tea was in one of the large tea markets of Shanghai. If you have visited a multiple story indoor mall, the setup is much the same except that all the shops have some sort of connection to tea or teaware. We visited similar markets in Kunming, but the Shanghai variety seem to be more urban in style, with fewer outdoor regions and a more modern appearance with, for example, escalators.

As this was the first tea market we visited on the east coast of China, we weren’t sure what to expect. Consequently, I sat and drank tea with the women who ran this shop several times over the course of a few hours, leaving frequently to explore the rest of the market. The selection of teaware on offer was remarkable, and upstairs from this particular shop I even discovered what appeared to be a tiny music school for my favorite instrument, the Guqin. Either that or it was a teaware and art store run by Guqin devotees.

The kind woman who served us tea was very patient with my comings and goings and allowed us to examine and taste several of the teas she had available, stored in large metal tins on the wall. One of the teas we picked, I think perhaps a Da Hong Pao, was a bit too expensive, so I settled on this unique selection, having never owned a Ròuguì before. Two seasons later I am very glad for my purchase!

I infused this tea in my wonderful new small Petr Novak teapot, gong-fu style. Attempting to follow the advice of Stéphane, I did not rinse the leaves first and instead increased the time of the first infusion to about one and a half minutes. The result was quite a roasted cup, which was probably more than I was attempting to invoke. For the second, shorter infusion and thereafter, the sweetness really shone through (starting with about 30 seconds and going up from there).

Xie Xie, Ming Qiu Cha Yuan.

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