Sunday, May 5, 2013

Anxi Tie GuanYin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) • 安溪鐵觀音

Anxi Tie GuanYin/Iron Goddess of Mercy (winter harvest) • 安溪鐵觀音(秋收冬種)

After Taiwan invaded the tea world with their light/non-roasted, high mountain oolongs, China responded by reinventing an old classic, Tie GuanYin, 鐵觀音 (or Iron Goddess of Mercy/Iron Buddha as it also goes by).

Traditionally, this was a heavily roasted tea but the non-roasted teas coming from Anxi, 安溪, are some of the most remarkable teas in the world, and also some of the most expensive.

The moment you see the beaded tea scooped from the package, you can see something is different. The green is brighter, like bits of emerald protruding from a mossy stone. The scent of the leaves is intensely sweat, a floral lilac scent, at first, with a sharp, sticky sensation that lingers in your throat.

After rinsing, the leaves explode, nearly filling the pot and a lovely floral aroma rises with the steam. The first pour is pale emerald. The initial taste is soft and sweet on the tongue but quickly hits the back of the mouth and throat with the most unique sensation, a slight tangy bitterness except it's not really bitter at all. It's more like a tiny grain of bitter encased in an iron frosting. The mouth fills with a sharp, sweet tang. If prepared well, this taste will last through several infusions. Though oolong usually takes three infusions to reach its full potential, I find the first steep of Tie GuanYin the most remarkable.

After the first steep, I usually find my pot overflowing with fully opened leaves, a sign of my own over zealousness, but using many leaves helps retain the iron-frostiness through out the session. The color of the liquor brightens and becomes more yellow as the session progresses. The remarkable element of this tea remains the lilac-like sweetness that builds into a heavy aftertaste. It's truly incomparable in any other tea.

Examining the open leaves, the edges are ragged and broken. This is from the extensive bruising the leaves are given during processing to release more of the tea juices and augment the development of flavour during fermentation.

Of the five yearly harvests, winter is in the middle as far as quality, but the over-all quality of this farm is so high that even the winter harvest is excellent. Kkik Da Geo only recently connected with this producer, so I'm really looking forward to when the top-grade spring harvest arrives!

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