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23rd April 2020


Wuyi Oolong: In Context

Written by Felicity 

How does the flavour of our Huang Meigui Wuyi Oolong compare to other teas?

Wuyi Oolong: Huang Meigui In Context

Here's what have we said about our recent batch of Wuyi Oolong – 'Rich, baked oolong lifted by a cacao, autumn fruit, some sweetness and subtle floral notes. It is grown in the mineral rich, rocky soils of the Wuyi mountains.'

Ed and Tom have chosen this batch from a relatively new cultivar and it is our first batch from Mr Zhong, who is farming in Huangcun, a village within the National Park of Wuyishan. It stood out to them because of its balance of florality with structure. It is sweet, prominent in mineral-earth flavours and has a nice mouthfeel – the type of texture only found in a few tea origins. We love making this tea with the recommended amount of leaf, but half the volume of water as you notice the flavour changing with each infusion. It satisfies on busier days, providing interest but also the ease of sweetness as it cools in the cup.

Tea & Leaf - Wuyi Oolong

How does it compare to Red Dragon?

Red Dragon is a soft black tea, coming from the lush tropical climes of Yunnan and is loved for its syrupy mouthfeel and sweet, dried fruit flavour.

Looking at the leaves of the Ruanzhi cultivar (used to make Red Dragon) compared to the Huang Meigui cultivar (used to make this particular Wuyi Oolong), we can see that both are dark, large twisted leaves and that Ruanzhi is a cultivar often used to produce oolong tea. In this instance we are comparing a black tea and an oolong tea. The two teas do have similarities – we can find thickness and fruitiness. They are both dark, warming and will comfort. However, Wuyi has a complexity to it, coming from the minerality, that derives from its rocky terroir, which adds a type of structure and earthiness to the Wuyi that makes it quite different to the sweet, syrupy Red Dragon.

We can see too that the Wuyi leaf has an underlying greenness to it (it is only 30% oxidised after all), whereas the Red Dragon leaf is much more red (the leaf has been left to oxidise right through). This helps explain the fresher fruit notes in the Wuyi compared to the ripe, raisin-like fruit in the Red Dragon.

If you like dried fruit, light nutmeg/ cinnamon spice, dark chocolate and sweet syrupiness you will like Red Dragon. If you like caramelised unripe fruit, cacao, minerality and complexity that presents in the structure of the tea, you will like Wuyi Oolong.

How does it compare to Vintage Imperial Puerh?

Considering the fruit flavours and earthiness that we have in Wuyi, I want to compare it to Vintage Imperial Puerh. The cooking process that the puerh goes through brings a different depth to the fruitiness - we can find dark fruit and Chinese plum which give this fruitiness an almost sweet/sour sensation. Yunnan, where the Vintage Imperial Puerh comes from, has abundant, lush flora - it is tropical, being further south than Wuyishan and as an area it is warmer overall. In Wuyi the soil is rocky with red sandstone and granite – sometimes the bushes grow up craggy mountainsides. This helps to explain the difference in the earthiness that we get in Wuyi and in Vintage Imperial Puerh. In Wuyi the tea is regularly described as high in minerality – I think it helps to conjure this up by imagining this grey, rocky terroir and in contrast to think of the damp, lushness of Yunnan to conjure up the more mulch, fresh earthiness in the Vintage Imperial Puerh, often described as “forest floor”.

Whereas the baking of Wuyi reduces the green-ish structure and brings out sweetness, there will always be a certain structure and often on the finish we can find a very light astringency. The cooking of the puerh is a much more intense process and the result is a much more mellow, soft tea, without any astringency.

If instead of minerality and cacao complexity in the Wuyi, you want full wet-earthiness, rich, earthy spice and mellow softness, you will like Vintage Imperial Puerh.

How does it compare to Ali Shan? 

Compared to Ali Shan - this Huang Meigui Wuyi is at least 15% more oxidised - they are very different teas. Whereas the leaves used to make Ali Shan are lush, bright green and soft, which is reflected in the floral aromas and softness of the texture. The leaves of the Wuyi cultivar are longer and harder which interestingly reflects the local rocky soils, but also the more structured mouthfeel and minerality of the tea. Ali Shan is fruity, creamy and rounded - the earthiness/ minerality of Wuyi contrasts with this. Ali Shan is also considered a green oolong (meaning it’s lightly oxidised and fired), whereas Wuyi - with its characteristic bake - is a darker oolong and the higher levels of oxidation and baking mellows the flavour, replacing it with a cooked fruit rather than fresher fruit.

Rocky Terrain of Wuyishan

How does it compare to Traditional Iron Buddha?

Traditional Iron Buddha is another baked oolong with a similar amount of oxidation to Wuyi. It has depth and structure like Wuyi but the cultivar and soils create less structure and minerality. It is slightly sweeter and softer than Wuyi and has nutty autumn fruit flavours, but not as dark as Wuyi. If you like the darkness and structure of Wuyi but want more autumn fruit and something a little more moistening, go for Traditional Iron Buddha.

How does it compare to Phoenix Honey Orchid? 

Staying within the oolong category and keeping fruitiness prominent, Phoenix Honey Orchid makes a good comparison. It is highly aromatic – much more obviously fruity than Wuyi. Whereas the fruit in Wuyi is almost as if it has been caramelised, in Phoenix the fruit is sharp and refreshing. The levels of oxidation and firing are not very far off the Wuyi and there is considerable structure in the mouth – something like honeycomb texture but significantly more high notes from the aromatics and a hint of sharpness and refreshing bitterness.

So, if you like a slight to medium dark oolong but want more aromatics and high notes and are happy with lighter body, Phoenix could be perfect for you.