Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aged Traditional Tie Guan Yin • 炭焙 傳統觀音

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Aged Traditional Tie Guan Yin (Iron Buddha/Iron Goddess)
20 years old, charcoal roasted • 20 年陳 炭焙 傳統觀音

Long before Taiwan's high mountain oolongs invaded the tea scene, China had a long history of oolong tea. Though oolong these days is mostly thought of as fresh, bright green, balled tea, this is a result of the overwhelming  popularity of Taiwan's tea over the past couple of decades. China answered back with a fresh take on Tie Guan Yin, the best of which are considered among the best teas in the world, now, but the traditional Chinese oolongs are much darker, aged and often roasted.

Daniel, from The Chinese Tea Shop, generously sent a sample of one of his premium Tie Guan Yin teas, a twenty year old tea, roasted every three years to enhance its flavour. Being that high mountain Taiwanese oolong and fresh Tie Guan Yin are my favorite teas, I was unsure how much I would fall for an aged, roasted oolong, but I was eager to start brewing and find out.

The first thing I noticed was how small the beads of tea were, about a third or so the size of what I was accustomed to. The colour was also quite unusual, very dark brown with tinges of red, like dried up old cranberries.

I choose one of my best pots, a small, red clay Seo-shi, perfectly shaped for oolong, and began pouring. Perhaps the tea felt my uncertainty because I was rather unimpressed. I found the flavour watery and metallic, like a penny on my tongue. That said, I enjoyed it anyway, it's very rare that I don't, I just wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped.

A few days later, I felt the urge to reach over for the small sample packet again. This time, I chose a much smaller pot, easier to control, and approached the tea with an unbiased mind. Once again, the tea responded accordingly, as I was lifted from my senses by the full, rich, chocolaty flavour of the tea. The mouth feel was lively and full, especially as it slide down my throat. The colour was a deep yet bright reddish orange that lasted through several steeps before slowly fading to a golden hue. The flavour barely faded a bit until the sweetly bitter end.

The energy of the tea was acute but gentle. I felt awake but not shaky, even after several cups. A pleasant warmth emanated from my my full belly, leaving me with the urge to just sit contently admiring the spent leaves, still tightly tangled together.

Reading Daniel's description of this tea just now, I found it interesting that he also describes the taste as being like chocolate. He also mentioned that this tea was grown in Anxi, known for the best Tie Guan Yin farms. This tea was actually bought fromt he farmer's private stock, which, as Daniel describes, took several years of visits to convince the farmer that he was a worthy buyer. This truly is a rare tea and I recommend that anyone who enjoys tea should try it!

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