1 (edited by brandon 2010-03-27 14:43:44)

Topic: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

Of course every tea master has his own methods, but I am trying to put my finger on two different styles of Yancha roasting. Can anyone explain the difference in technique? The term "high fire" gets thrown around quite a bit and seems to be fairly meaningless. I am looking for a better way to describe them, but here is a start. Sorry if this doesn't make much sense yet - I am sure we can nail it down.

"Wuyi High Fire"
- Hou De Zhen Yan collection
- Jing Tea Shop, pretty much everything
- Red Blossom
- Pretty Much Everybody..

- Characteristics: fruitier, more floral, more astringent, harsh on throat when young.
- Long (early) brews are undrinkable
   Lighter orange liquor. Mouthfeel less thick than "HK".
- More Charcoal taste, more charcoal in mouthfeel in early infusions

"Hong Kong High Fire"
- Tea Gallery 1980s/1990s Tie Luo Han
- Tea Gallery 2004/2009 High Fire Shui Xian
- The Mandarins Tea Room 2008 Shui Xian
- TeaCuppa El Cheapo Shui Xian (yeah, this isn't only in a 'premium' product!)

I've even tasted this same kind of Shui Xian at a Chinese restaurant out of a big stainless pot. (not saying it was killer, just in the same vein)

Thick, syrupy, cocoa, smooth! Dark brownish-red liquor. Long brews do not become bitter.
Seems to be associated with Hong Kong roasters. No apparent charcoal taste as in "high" or even "mid" fire teas from the mainland.

Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

First off, while this is a subject I've thought a lot about, I certainly don't have first-hand knowledge, so a lot of what I'm saying is second hand and / or conjecture. Second, I'm pretty sure a lot of the teas you have in the second section (HK high-fire) are not from / roasted by HK shops. However, the stuff from tea shops in HK that have been around a while (Lam Kie Yuen, Lau Yu Fat, Cheung Hing (Xiang Xing), Best Tea House, etc.) does have a characteristic style and taste. The folks running a lot of these stores are from Chaozhou or Fujian, and sell to an audience that still likes the older high-fire style of tea, and is willing to pay for it. Who knows what will happen when these folks retire. In the next paragraph, I'm talking about these teas, but not necessarily most of the ones in your second list. Certainly, you would be well-advised to talk to Michael and / or Tim, who probably have more direct knowledge than most people who post here.

To me the difference is that the firing is more aggressive, and the HK shops tend to rest it longer before selling it. The HK shops tend to buy the tea as maocha and then roast it to their own specifications, and I am pretty sure a lot of this tea has a good healthy dose of oxidation, which may partially account for the sweetness and characteristic taste these teas have. I've heard that they use a "recipe" to keep consistency from year to year. I would guess that the "recipe" includes the type(s) and oxidation levels of the maocha itself, the length of each roast, and the time between roasts, as well as the period to rest the tea before selling it. Some of these shops have been open for quite a while, so the roaster may have quite a bit of experience, and I would guess that they have some sort of long-term relationship with wherever they get their raw material.  I am personally skeptical that what a lot of these shops are selling is all zheng yan material even if they claim it is, but the teas do have a characteristic taste that's hard to describe. Sometimes I feel the roast is a little too high, but it does make for a pleasant tasting tea much of the time.

I wouldn't consider Tim's 2008 one to be the same kind of "high-fire", and to the best of my knowledge, it wasn't roasted in HK, though of course he would know better. Tea Gallery's recent stuff (not counting the Tie Luo Han you're talking about), even the more roasted stuff, tends to be more balanced too, at least from the stuff I've tried.

I could be wrong, but I think a lot of what you're tasting in some of these teas is the fact that they have a higher degree of oxidation. If the tea isn't so roasted to hell that you can't see the color of the leaf, you can tell by how much red the tea leaf has, especially on the edge; you can also get some clues by the taste, and by the color of the brewed tea.

Also, everyone's idea of "high-fire" or "traditional" is different. The more tea I drink, the more I seek balance in the teas I drink. That's not to say that I don't enjoy a super high-fire tea, because I do, but I do find myself gravitating towards teas that aren't all roast and no green.

3 (edited by brandon 2010-03-27 18:38:10)

Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

Yeah *most* of tea gallery's teas are in the first group - the "High Fire" Shui Xian I am not sure is even offered yet from 2009.
Now, as far as resting goes, Michael's 2004 was one of the first teas in the 2nd group I loved. I tried to get more a few months ago and he was sold out. He offered me 2009, saying "I doubt you will be able to tell the difference." I put a lot of stock into the idea that some of these properties were due to aging, but as it turns out, the 2009 is almost as smooth as the one it is replacing. This is one thing that got me thinking about this.

It has occurred to me that "2009" might just be the year the tea was sold to Michael and a lot more happened behind the scenes than we know.

I believe you about higher oxidation though, its just tough to tell. Tim did tell me that the HK roaster does indeed use a recipe for blending his TGY prior to roasting - blend of spring and fall harvest leaves.

Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

That '09 tea may well have had a good 5-9 months to rest since its last roast.

Regardless, that's far from the only thing in the equation Just as an example, I have a (quite cheap) Bei Dou #1 from a farmer that's outside the scenic area. His tea tasted pretty smooth and surprisingly similar to a lot of the stuff from these HK shops. After the sample I had tried, it had been re-roasted another time, and some folks thought it was actually over-fired.

However, I took some out a month or so ago to see how it was progressing, and while the tea seemed less high-fire than before, it wasn't as smooth. Not sure if it just needs a refresher or what, but I was surprised by the results so far.

I think the skill of the roaster, (and the number of roasts and the amount of time between each roast) has a lot to do with it. Heck, even recognizing how a tea is going to taste further on in its development is a skill that could take years to develop.

Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

In Chinese yancha speak, usually there is:
清火 qing1huo3 light fire
高火 gao1huo3 high fire (your high fire)
足火 zu2huo3 'full' fire (your HK style)

足 here means: sufficient, full, ample. can also mean: pure, sterling. (足金,足银)
can anyone think of a better translation for Zuhuo?
In my limited experience with Zuhuo teas, HK has been better than mainland.

wyardley wrote:

His tea tasted pretty smooth and surprisingly similar to a lot of the stuff from these HK shops. After the sample I had tried, it had been re-roasted another time, and some folks thought it was actually over-fired.

If it was Lao Li's tea, his 2009 stuff was so rough! I think maybe that one beidou No. 1 might have been just lucky.


Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

dae wrote:

Michael was intrigued by the results of Master Lin's roast, so different from the Hong Kong style he's most familiar with.

http://theteagallery.blogspot.com/2010/ … ntain.html
It would be nice to hear from some people on this thread how TW/HK/CZ/mainland zhonghuo重火/zuhuo足火 is different.


Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

Good to see you on here again, LaoChaGui! And good to talk to you the other day.

The style in Taiwan definitely seems to be lighter, maybe because the trend for lighter oolongs has been so big there, and I think there are more places in Taiwan that use electric roasters these days rather than traditional wood charcoal roasting. The "strong roast" teas I've tried from Taiwan, with some major exceptions, have tended to be still fairly green. These greener roasted teas usually seem too wishy-washy to me, especially if they're not accompanied by a bump in the tea's level of oxidation as well. But I have had some excellent medium roast Taiwanese gaoshan teas which have an incredible lingering (and often slightly cooling) aftertaste that has a very different character from the aftertaste of most of the roasted mainland style teas (Tieguanyin or Wuyi yancha).

I know some of the traditional fuels to use in Taiwan are longyan and acacia wood charcoal. I have seen mention of "wood-fired" tea, but I assume (Rich would probably know better than I) that people are usually talking about wood charcoal, not actual wood fires.

I was wondering about '重火' - you didn't mention it in your previous post, but that's the word I immediately thought of when I saw your post.

Re: Yancha Roasting "styles"?

A few updates on this:

First, a big thanks to LaoChaGui for the descriptors for different firings.

Next, way back when this thread got started, Will suggested two things I think we can now revise.

Almost all of the 'fully fired' teas I describe are verifiably made (or at least commissioned) for Hong Kong shops.
Will and I have tasted a few more examples of this, including Cheung Hing listed above.

Will supposed at the time that the base teas are more oxidized than the average 'balanced' Yancha. Since then, we tested both re-fired Shui Xian from Cheung Hing along side the original tea ordered from Fujian. The original tea, to me, was not significantly different than most Shui Xian. I still have one serving left for further study. I am going to go out on a limb and guess the 'input' tea is not much different from your every day Yancha.

Now, to muddy the waters a bit....

Will has heard rumors of blends/recipes used by the shops before the re-firing to achieve a certain taste or consistency in their product from year to year. "Hong Kong" Tie Guan Yin has a lot in common with the fully fired rock tea that launched this topic, and Tim (of Mandarin fame) described to me that the maker of his TGY uses a blend of spring and autumn leaves. 60/40 mix, but I do not remember what direction.

Mr. Lin is quite famous of late and has some of the same quirks of other tea masters. He is interviewed at the end of The Meaning of Tea film, where he suggests that he has not yet passed on any detail of his roasting process to his own son - or anybody else. He also sells only tiny quantities of his best teas. So, while I don't have much more than a guess what his methods are, his tea is fairly high fired and meant for very long term aging. Less high fired than HK Shui Xian. I tried a much more recent tea (08 or 09) from him which was meant for drinking now. It was a typical Taiwan light roast. A bit woody, just plays up the high mountain tea.