Rou gui is a type of oolong tea that is grown and prepared in China. Its name actually means cinnamon, in part because its leaves smell faintly of cinnamon and brew up to a cup of tea with spicy notes. Rou gui is famous for being one of the Wuyi oolong teas, sometimes known as rock oolong, because it grows in an area with soil enriched by volcanic rock. Like many oolongs, this tea can typically withstand several ways of brewing, often offering up different flavors and aromas with each successive brew.
While all true tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, there are significant differences between various teas given the varieties of the plant, its growing conditions, and the processing methods used to make the tea ready for sale and consumption. The distinctions between black, green, and oolong teas, for example, have to do with the degree of oxidization permitted during processing. For example, green tea is not permitted to oxidize, but is heated soon after plucking to halt oxidization. Black tea, on the other hand, is typically crushed or rolled after picking so as to break down its cell walls and permit full oxidization to occur. Oolong tea is partially oxidized, and the amount of oxidization that occurs varies considerably by tea type.
The partial oxidation of oolong teas can produce some remarkably complex flavors, such as that of rou gui. The dry leaf of rou gui is typically dark brown and slightly twisted. Like many other rock oolongs, rou gui is typically roasted as well. The amount of roasting depends on the decisions made by the tea master, who oversees the production of the tea. Some people like a heavily roasted tea, while others feel that tea with a lighter roast gives up more subtle flavors of the actual tea leaf.
Rou gui or any oolong tea can be brewed in a variety of different ways, but many people feel that it is best brewed in traditional Chinese tea ware, such as a covered cup, also known as a gaiwan, or in a tiny teapot. A typical method of brewing oolong tea for maximum flavor is to use a large amount of leaf and a small amount of hot water. The tea is initially allowed to brew for 30 seconds or so, but subsequent infusions can last a little longer. These multiple steps not only help keep oolong tea affordable, but allow tea drinkers to taste different flavor nuances as the leaves continue to infuse.