Updated: Feb 22, 2019
In our previous tea blogs, we’ve throughly introduced the roast of Wuyi oolong (please see the complete list at end of this blog). In today’s oolong market, light roast and heavy roast probably divide the market half and half. (Almost all oolong outside the Wuyi region are considered as light roast/superlight roast)
Lightly roasted Wuyi oolong teas are certainly charming. The floral aromas fill the space and capture tea lovers almost instantly. The aromas that light roast Wuyi oolong have are not just one or two simple layers, it’s a very sophisticated combination of floral aromas.
Compared to heavy roast, light roast Wuyi oolongs are always easier to approach. Heavy roasts such as Rou Gui can be very dominating for people who’re new to tea. Instead of you embracing a light roast, you’re conquered by a heavy roast.
Some light roast lovers might ask, since light roasts are almost perfect, why are there heavy roasts at all?
And here are the most straightforward answers: 1. light roast oolongs cannot be stored for too long; 2. light roasts address more on fragrances, but heavy roasts can bring out the good flavor , and they taste better.
Light roast Wuyi oolong teas are easily “Fan Qing” (Chinese: 返青, literal meaning: going back to green), which refers to the water content in leaves turns a tea bad. This is the result of the light roast which allows extra water content to stay in leaves. Light roasts are like ice creams. If an ice cream is kept in room temperature, it’d soon melt. For light roasts, you better finish them soon.
However, heavy roast Wuyi oolong don’t have such problems. In fact, heavy roasts were the only roast available until 20 to 30 years ago. All light roast Wuyi oolong teas are quite new in the history of oolong.
Before modern transportation exists, tea merchants relied heavily on land transportation. The mountainous nature of the Wuyi area makes tea shipping extremely slow. Therefore, oolongs were heavily roasted to avoid “Fan Qing”.
But the transportation conundrum is not why Wuyi oolongs are traditionally heavily roasted. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any heavy roasts left after we invented the modern transportation.
Heavy roasts can truly bring the best out of fresh leaves. First of all, a heavy roast doesn’t mean it’s roasted under more intense heat as if tea leaves are “tortured” more. A heavy roast means that tea leaves have a longer exposure to heat from the charcoal ash. A heavier (longer) roast also gives tea leaves more time to get rid of the “greeness”(water content) from fresh leaves while keeping the floral aromas still embedded.
After multiple roasts, a Wuyi oolong tea becomes a heavy roast. Once infused, a heavy roast displays a richer and more fulfilling flavor. The tea soup is also thicker and more mellow. This type of tea soup is usually the favorite of experienced tea drinkers. Richer tea soup can totally satisfy the demand of a tea drinker’s appetite.
Different roasts are always compared by tea lovers. Since modern tea-making pairs tea plants with the level of roast (e.g., Rou Gui is always a heavy roast and Huang Guan Yin is always a light/mid roast), tea lovers often compare two teas without realizing they’re actually comparing two different roasts.
It’s quite obvious why light roasts can easily charm so many tea lovers. A light roast wins on its sharp, often surprising aromas. It’s an enchanting gate to the world of Wuyi oolong.
A heavy roast is like a seasoned gentleman. It wins on the mellow mouth feel and a richer flavor. You have to try and carefully experience it to genuinely appreciate the extra work of refinement.
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