Blog 84: A Detailed Study of Rou Gui’s Cinnamonic Scent
If you ask a tea maker to choose “the king of oolong”, Rou Gui is probably the most popular choice of all.
Rou Gui, or 肉桂 in Chinese, is a Wuyi oolong famous for its sharp aromas. Interestingly, Rou Gui is also the name for “cinnamon” in Chinese. The tea and the spice share exactly the same Chinese characters and the pronunciation.
This is perhaps why many Chinese speaking tea lovers assume Rou Gui tea, a kind of Wuyi oolong, has something to do with cinnamon trees. Some even take for granted that Rou Gui tea is made with cinnamon tree leaves.
This is wrong. As a tea, Rou Gui is named after its cinnamonic scent.
The scent of an authentic Rou Gui tea has a very masculine character. Especially for Rou Gui plants that receive more sunlight, tea leaves from those plants can develop a even stronger and sharper cinnamonic scent.
In general, Rou Gui’s aromas can be described as “rolling waves” and “dazzling currents”.
As we know, the smell of the spice “cinnamon” is slightly stimulating. After entering our noses, the smell of cinnamon can soon occupy our olfactory system. Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma is similar to the smell of boiled water containing a small amount of cinnamon skins or cinnamon powder.
The delivery of Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma is also very sharp and instant. In fact, if you have symptoms of nasal congestion, Rou Gui tea can serve as a great relief.
The cinnamonic aroma of Rou Gui is a crucial criteria when judging the quality of a Rou Gui tea. It is also an enjoyment for our senses of smell and taste.
The development of Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma is quite amusing. It doesn’t exist when tea leaves are dry. Those who say dry Rou Gui tea leaves also have a cinnamonic aroma are either lying or simply presuming based on ignorance because only water at the boiling temperature (100℃/212℉) can bring out Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma.
In other words, Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma is full of pride. It only reveals itself under the fierce attack, such as by the hot water at the boiling temperature.
Once infused, the aroma quickly spreads to different locations.
In our daily tea-drinking, the aroma of Rou Gui primarily concentrate in 3 locations: on the lid of a Gaiwan, in the tea soup and in the leaf bottom (please see Blog 59 for more information about “leaf bottom”)
The fragrance substances released into the air are capture by Gaiwan’s lid. This is why the presenter of a tea presentation would often sniff the inside of the lid after the first infusion.
Besides sniffing the lid, we can also “taste” the tea soup to “smell” the aroma. If you sip the tea soup strongly, the cinnamonic aroma embedded in the tea soup can be enhanced through retronasal olfaction.
In tea-drinking, scents that can be “tasted” through retronasal olfaction is called “Luo Shui Xiang” (Chinese: 落水香, meaning: fragrances that fall into the water).
The fascinating fragrances of tea are all about “aromatic alcohol compounds”. (Please note that “alcohol compounds” are not related to “alcohol” commonly found in alcoholic beverages such as beers and spirits.) Normally, there are two types of compounds associated with tea: those with high boiling temperature and those with low boiling temperature. “Luo Shui Xiang” is actually a compound with a high boiling temperature.
Rou Gui’s cinnamonic aroma belongs to “Luo Shui Xiang”, which requires high temperature to release. This is why we must use boiling water for a Rou Gui tea.
Finally, the leaf bottom displays the true state of a Rou Gui tea. After rounds of infusions, over 90% of fragrance substances would vanish into the water. Only the leaf bottom still keeps the essence of the cinnamonic aroma.
Since Rou Gui tea is famous for its aromas, if a Rou Gui is without its signature cinnamonic aroma, it’s not a good Rou Gui tea. As a well-made Rou Gui, the cinnamonic aroma should not only be smelled, but also tasted.
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