Friday, August 24, 2007

Rou Gui Oolong Showdown

One main goal motivated me to do this particular showdown – I wanted to find out if Rou Gui actually did taste like cinnamon or not! I’d read descriptions of it, and tasted some teas individually, but never really grasped why anyone would compare it to cinnamon, so I thought perhaps if I tasted several varieties, maybe they would yield more info than previously. I also decided to brew them gong fu style, using gaiwans and filtered water. I ended up having to use a smallish fair pitcher for my third gaiwan, since I only have two, and had tea from three vendors.

The three rou gui’s I have are from Teacuppa, Stash, and Teaspring. I don’t know what year the Teacuppa variety is, as it was a sample included with an order, and they didn’t mark the year on the package. For that matter, none of my rou gui packs had years marked on them, so we’re in the dark there. I used filtered tap water to brew with, at around 180 degrees. I tried to use approximately the same ratio of leaf to cup for each type…around ¼ the gaiwan of leaf. Unfortunately, it was dark in my kitchen, so the pictures are less than spectacular, but you can sort of get the idea. In all pictures, Teacuppa is on the right, Stash is in the middle, and Teaspring is on the left (as you’re looking at them). I did rinse each of the teas with a 5 second rinse that was discarded.

So, right from the start, these three versions of Rou Gui all had a unique scent. The Teacuppa scent was sweet and woodsy, with almost a floral tone lurking in the background. The Stash was also sweet, but bolder, and with a more grassy fragrance. And the Teaspring was nothing other than a deep, chocolaty scent, a surprise since not one of them smelled like cinnamon, and all were very sweet and different.

The first infusion was 30s for all three. And they couldn’t have tasted more different! The Teacuppa was sharp, and very cinnamon-y, like straight ground cinnamon without the benefit of sugar to tone it down. It was a thin brew, and bitter, but not drying. The Stash was very bold, more of a roasted flavor, rather than cinnamon (I actually didn’t detect any cinnamon flavor in this one). It was bitter as well, without being astringent, and thin on the tongue. It was more complex than the Teacuppa brew. The Teaspring had more of the roasted flavor too, but was also very smoky, like charcoal more than liquid smoke (ie, not like a lapsong). There was no bitterness, it was slightly sweet, and another thin brew. Very interesting and complex.
The second infusion was 40s. The Teacuppa was lighter, smoky sweet and more woody, still with the cinnamon “bite”, but very drying in the mouth. The Stash was slightly smokey, carrying a very bold flavor with the distinctive cinnamon “bite” on the tip of the tongue. It was less bitter than the first cup, with a hint of astringency. The Teaspring was very roasty & smoky, but less flavorful with no bite, bitterness, or much of anything else.

The third infusion was for 50s. The Teacuppa was sweeter, less astringent, and had a good cinnamon flavor with less of a “bite”, and more texture to the brew. The Stash however was thin, very drying, and less flavorful, with only a slight cinnamon taste. The Teaspring was thicker and smoky, but with much less flavor, and very drying (though still not bitter).

It seemed like all three teas were wearing out around the 3rd infusion, even though the color was still quite good for all of them. I brewed one more infusion for a full minute, that resulted in very weak, thin brews not really worth commenting on. I think had I heated more water, and brewed hotter/longer, I may have been able to squeeze them a bit more.
The leaves were interesting as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t get good pictures of them at all – too dark. Surprisingly, the leaves from Teacuppa were the smallest…something I would have expected more from Stash. The leaves from Teaspring were the largest and prettiest when unfurled, though all were a lovely mixture of very dark brown and olive green.

I’m hard-pressed to decide which of these I like best, simply because they are all so different. This tasting did leave me with an incredibly dry mouth…not something I particularly enjoy, and warmed me up quite nicely. The teaspring version really had no cinnamon flavor to speak of, which is supposedly traditional in Rou Gui. I think for the perfect mix, I’d have to blend the Stash and Teacuppa versions together – for a smoky-sweet roasted cinnamon brew.

Even so, not my favorite kind of oolong, largely due to the very drying aspects of the tea (it really reminded me of trying ground cinnamon straight…very sharp and astringent). Perhaps I’d like it better if I brewed a teaspoon of leaves for 3 min. or so, English style. I may have to try that sometime.

So no clear “winner” for me, but I don’t think the Teaspring version does justice to the common description of “cinnamon flavor”.


  1. Compare this with the Rougui Marathon from Abx


  2. I posted a link to that blog yesterday - it's Tea Time in Portland, at the end of my "blogs of note" list, for anyone feeling too lazy to copy & paste the URL.

    I read those reviews yesterday, and I find those remarks to be very much in line with what I found, though much more in depth (of course). I wasn't aware that an oolong could "age", and may have to do some research on that. I wouldn't be adverse to "aging" the Stash and Teaspring rou gui's, and revisiting them later to see if the charcoal and roasted tastes mellow into something sweeter...

  3. A very nice post and a timely amplification of ABx's epic review.


  4. Everyone is drinking Rou Gui these days!

    Though I don't have much personal experience with aging oolongs, my understanding is that you want to seal it away from the elements *as much as possible*, unlike how you would age puerh. I'm just starting to do this myself... I think I'm too impatient though. :)

    Great post!

  5. Thanks Brent - I appreciate the info. I'm not sure how sealing up any tea could possibly "age" it, but hey, I'm willing to try anything (within reason). I'll see what other info I can find, and put it away for awhile...I dare say it will be easier than trying to figure out how to age my small puerh collection properly...


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