Monday, April 24, 2017

Old Ways Tea Company: A Pair of Rou Gui, A Tea Review

I love Rou Gui, it might be my favorite Yancha, combining (usually) a hefty roast with gentle spice notes just really works for me. Of course, it seems I am in a constant search for a Rou Gui with actual spice notes (to me they almost always are more like nutmeg than cinnamon) frequently I find they are not present or so faint it is barely noticeable, and while the tea might be wonderful it is not what I am wanting from a Rou Gui. But, I have high hopes for Old Ways Tea Company's Rou Gui, and was very lucky that they sent me two samples, one of their standard Rou Gui and one of their Premium Rou Gui, so I will get to try both and see if I can find the elusive spice. Granted I will admit I am a little sad, I ordered a new clay shiboridashi for Yancha, but it has not arrived yet, so I had to use the neglected Yixing teapot for these teas.

The first one I am looking at is the Rou Gui, the aroma right away struck me as delicious. Notes of mineral, burnt nutmegs (like someone actually tossed a bunch of nutmegs into a fire and these are their charred remains) lychees, cooked plums, and woody char all greet me from the curly leaves. Luckily the aroma is strong but not too strong, I learned early in my love of Yancha to not stick your face in them because they can be a bit overwhelming, but this one was mellow enough that I could snuffle around in the leaves for a while. Brewing the tea gets you a strong charred nutmeg note that merges with charred oak wood and a very distant smoke and mineral, it is potent and rich. The liquid holds the sweetness, blending spiced cooked plums and raisins with undertones of charred wood and mineral. Really liking how 'rocky' this Yancha smells, very much like rain splattered slate on a hot day.

Ooh this one starts off like a burst of melted dark chocolate and char, I have compared Yancha's chocolate notes to the same taste of fire burnt chocolate on the edge of a s'more and this one does not disappoint. Then it moves to a charred wood and non-charred wood taste with wet slate and a touch of almonds. Of course, you are probably wondering if the spice from the aroma carried over, and it did. At first it is a light nutmeg note at the finish and aftertaste, but later steeps really ramp up the spice blending it with the char notes to again remind me of the coals of a fire made of nutmegs.

On to the Premium Rou Gui, this one is grown in the Banyan region and promises a stronger roast, and since I am drinking this on a damp cool day, that sounds perfect. I like my Yancha pretty heavily roasted (don't get me wrong, I go a little crazy for a light roast Qilan or Bai Ji Guan, but mostly I like the strong stuff.) The aroma of the leaves is pretty intense though not in the way I was expecting. It is a strong roast with pleasant char and burnt wood notes, but the most potent aspect is the strong spice and sweet honey notes. It is a bit like nutmeg and honey drizzled on lychees that you happen to be eating next to a smoldering fire after a rainstorm, it smells amazing and I had a hard time pulling my nose out of the teapot. Oh sweet Raptor Jesus that smells good once steeped!! I have had some intensely sweet Yancha, but this is by far the spiciest and sweetest Rou Gui, I can definitely smell the nutmeg and for once I even detect a bit of cassia, which is pretty awesome. The liquid is wet slate, charred wood, and lychees covered in nutmeg and honey.

It has a pleasantly mild start, the notes of roast are quite present, as are the spice and sweetness, but it has a subtlety to it that was very pleasing. No kicks in the face until the second steep where this tea really wakes up and takes you by the hand and then leads you on an adventure of tastes! With a strong char and crisp mouthfeel, I feel like my mouth is alive (with juices like wine, and yes I am in fact quite wolfishly hungry at the moment) but not overwhelmed, really like how strong this tea is without being too strong. I can taste lychees, honey, cassia, nutmeg, and a bit of dark chocolate alongside the strong roast, and not just a mouthful of char. Usually, I am not huge on food pairings, but I discovered one by accident, this tea is amazing with almond chocolate biscotti, so if you have this tea and a 2lb box of biscotti sitting around (Costco is dangerous) I definitely recommend giving that mix a try.

This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

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