Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In our previous blogs, we’ve talked quite a lot about Wu-Yi oolong roasting.(Click here for Part I and here for Part II). In Wu-Yi oolong tea-making, the roasting can be seen as the last part of the whole process. However, the end of the process doesn’t mean a freshly roasted Wu-Yi oolong is ready for sale. Today, let’s talk about why Wu-Yi oolong needs a cool-down time after the roast.
In our mind, freshness is key to quality agricultural products. From seafood to vegetables, fresher the product, better the value. But this general concept doesn’t apply to all tea. For example, Green tea is the best when fresh, and white tea is better when aged. Wu-Yi oolong, however, requires a unique “cool-down” time.
Depends on how heavy the roast is, a Wu-Yi oolong typically needs to wait at least half a month to 2-3 months before goes on sale. Heavier the roast, longer the cool-down time. Generally speaking, lightly roasted tea such as Yellow Goddess (Huang Guan Yin/黄观音) and Golden Peony(Jin Mu Dan/金牡丹), usually go on sale in June. Other heavier roasted tea, such as Rou-Gui(肉桂) and Shui-Xian(水仙), need to wait until at least July. Some tea vendors/suppliers only learned that Wu-Yi oolong has a cool-down time, but don’t realize that different Wu-Yi oolong has different cool-down time. Many tea vendors have been selling this year’s Rou-Gui and Shui-Xian since early June. This is ghastly dishonest and shockingly ignorant.
A good Wu-Yi oolong (Yancha) has two major criteria: aromas and flavors. Unfortunately, freshly roasted Wu-Yi oolong doesn’t excel in either. First, it has a dinstinct charcoal-like smell. Second, it tastes “fiery”. In tea-making, we say that there’s still “the work of fire” left in tea. All Wu-Yi oolong are roasted with the residual heat from litchi wood charcoal ash. When infused just after the roasting, a tea’s characteristics are still suppressed. If you smell dry tea leaves, there is a noticeable smell of charcoal ash.
For example, Rou-Gui is famous for its sharp aroma, but this sharpness is clear and refreshing. However, freshly roasted Rou-Gui smells darker and messier. If we infuse this tea, the tea soup tastes watery, not as thick and dense as it should be.
Of course, any respectable tea maker won’t sell tea before the cool-down is finished. If you happen to purchase a Wu-Yi oolong (Yancha) right after the roast, please allow your tea to have some cool-down time. A tea during the cool-down is like a flower bud waiting to blossom. If the tea-making is how a Wu-Yi oolong is born, then the cool-down is how a Wu-Yi oolong grows up and transforms into a matured luxury.
Most tea lovers’ started with green tea. Yes, the light flavor is very approachable. It’s very ideal for people who want everything fresh. But, this type of tea doesn’t deliver enough character. On the contrary, a Wu-Yi oolong has such a character that you have to follow its rules. A oolong’s soul is strong, vivid and full of energy. The fact that a Wu-Yi oolong requires “cool-down” is just another example of its uniqueness in the world of tea. Perhaps, this is also why most seasoned tea lovers end up enjoying oolong only.
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Correction: In an earlier version, we made a mistake and stated that Golden Peony is Huang Mu Dan/黄牡丹. The correct name should be Jin Mu Dan/金牡丹.