Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea – History
The history of Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea (short: TGY) begins in Anxi county, Fujian province, where it reaches back to the first half of the 18th century (ca. 1725 – 1735). Because of its intense honey sweetness, the tea has made it to one of the world’s most popular teas. At the same time, Tie Guan Yin oolong tea enjoys particularly high prestige in its homeland China. This reflects in its continued high ranking on China’s official Top-10 tea list.
On the one hand, TKY oolong tea is bound to the Anxi-native tea plant variety of the same name. On the other hand, it comes in a great diversity of variations. At this, the spectrum of processing variations ranges from low to high degrees of oxidation and from unroasted to heavily roasted. Our Tie Guan Yin marks the low-roasted and only slightly oxidized, i.e. almost green variant of this tea. Currently, this is also the most popular variant.
Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea derives its name from a legend ranking around its origin, featuring an ancient Chinese goddess with the same name….
According to the legend, there once was an old rundown temple in Anxi county, Fujian province, which accommodated an iron statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. A pour farmer, named Mr. Wei, used to pass by this temple on his daily way to his fields. Doing so, he regularly reflected on the temple’s worsening condition. Eventually, he started to think about what he could do to remedy the monument’s steady decay despite his lack of the means needed to renovate the building.
So, one day he brought a broom and incenses along. He swept the temple grounds with the broom and lit the incenses as an offering to the goddess. And in the time to follow, he repeated that ritual twice a month. And so it went for many months, until one night the goddess Guanyin appeared to him in a dream, telling him about a cave behind the temple, where a treasure awaited him. Also, the appearance told him to find that treasure share with others.
The next day, Mr. Wei took on searching for the cave, which he eventually discovered. The treasure hidden therein, however, turned out to be a single tea shoot. Mr. Wei planted the shoot, and soon a tea plant grew from it that produced a particularly sweet and special tea. Mr. Wei then broke shoots off that tea bush and gave them to his neighbours and surrounding farmers as a gift. Within short time, the tea from Anxi earned itself a name nationwide for its delicate and unique taste. As a result, the farmers of Anxi county prospered in the time to come, thanks to this tea. So, in order to honor the goddess and thank her for the great gift, the named the tea Tie Guan Yin.
Just a Legend?
Well, Anxi farmers enjoy some level of prosperity to this day indeed, thanks to Tie Guan Yin Oolong. The region virtually lives of the tea, which is processed as an oolong tea as a standard. There were even times, when TGY was considered the most precious of all Chinese teas. However, it is not just that the Tie Guan Yin is a very special tea plant variety. Much rather, Tie Guan Yin also involves a special and particularly elaborate picking and processing procedure.
Cultivation, Picking and Processing of Tie Tuan Yin Oolong Tea in Anxi
In Anxi, Tie Guan Yin is grown at altitudes between 300 and 1000 meters. At this, climate conditions are comparable to those of other Chinese Oolong teas. That is, typically with morning fog, diffuse lighting conditions and moderate temperatures. Then, there are usually 4 picking periods, one in spring, two in summer and one in autumn. Each of these pickings has its own unique flavor characteristics, with the spring and autumn pickings considered the best.
In total, the “becoming” of ´Tie Guan Yin oolong tea consists of 7 steps:
3. Breaking up of leaf surfaces
7. Roasting (if any) / Drying
One special feature of the picking of Oolong teas in general is the picking standard. In contrast to other types of tea, shoots do not qualify for Oolong tea. Instead, only the leaves below the fresh shoots are picked. At this, the right choice of leaves ensures that the tea doesn’t get bitter even with prolonged steeping periods. This is because especially the young shoots of TKY contain a lot of bitter substances.
Another special feature of the picking, especially of Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea, is the picking period. While the best time to pick most types of tea – including most Oolong teas – is spring, the very finest TKY comes from the autumn picking.
Depending on processing variation, Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea can have different degrees of oxidation and roasting. Due to modern taste trends, however, the only slightly oxidized and gently roasted varieties predominate today. This also applies to our “Tie Guan Yin Qingxiang Delicate Fragrance”, showing a very low level of both oxidation and roasting. The color of the tea liquor with its bright, light yellow-green reflects this degree of fermentation.
Common to all processing variations is the initial withering of the freshly picked tea leaves outdoors under the sun. Furthermore, the breaking-up of the leaf surface is a shared feature of oolong tea processing and therefore also of all TGY’s. This is done by applying manual force to the tea leaves during a second withering phase, with the leaves distributed on large round bamboo trays in the shady interior of the tea factory.
The breaking-up of the leaf surfaces effects the juices emerging from the leaf to react with the oxygen in the air. This process is essential for the taste of Oolong teas. The tea leaves are then left to oxidize to the desired degree before the oxidation process is stopped through heat. At the same thime, the tea leaves receive their characteristic ball-shape by applying mechanical force. In Taiwan, however, open-rolled shapes are also quite common. After rolling, one to several roasting runs optionally take place before the final drying.
Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong – Taste and Appearance
At proper climate conditions, the Tie Guan Yin will develop a particularly high content of aminophenol components (amino acids) in the tea leaves. This is, what gives this tea is very unique fragrance and taste.
After pouring hot water, the deep green, ball-shaped tea leaf unfolds an, slowly returning to its original shape. At this, the break lines from the second processing step become visible. I like to describe the taste of the bright yellow to slightly greenish cup with the metapher “velvet and silk”. At this, the honey sweetness dominates the delicate floral notes in an intense fragrance. This in turn reflects the full-bodied taste that reveals itself to the connoisseur in a clear and unadulterated way, but nevertheless with paralleled softness
Our producer partner in Anxi, the Dongquin family, draws on generations of experience in the cultivation and processing of Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea. They divide their Ti Kuan Yin into 4 quality grades, the two highest of which are the Chunxiang 醇香茶 (mellow tea class) and the Qingxiang ,清香茶 (delicate fragrance type).
TGY Chunxiang (Mellow Tea Type) vs. TGY Qingxiang (Delicate Fragrance)
Decisive for the difference between Quingxiang (grade A) and Chunxiang (grade A+) Tie Guan Yin is the age of the tea plant. While fragrance is more pronounced with the Qingxiang type, the Chunxiang type rules in terms of taste. In fact, one can say : the smell of the Qingxiang lives up to the Chunxiang’s taste. At this the quality difference between the 2 top grades might be subtle, but is still tangible.
In general, the quality of Anxi Tie Guan Yin tea decreases with the age of the tea plant. That is why the tea farmers in Anxi dig out their old tea plants every 7 to 9 years to replace them with young ones. The youngest tea plants represent the quality grade A+ (Chunxiang). After about 2 years the quality of the plant changes to class A (Qingxiang). Another 2 years later, the same plant will only produce B quality, and so on, until it finally has to be replaced by a young tea plant. As to that, Siam Tea Shop limits its offer to the two top grades..
After heating the teapot with the hot water, pour approx. 5 grams of Tie Kuan Yin Chunxiang Oolong tea with 200ml of water at a temperature of 90-100 ° C. Then let infuse for about 2 minutes. For a second infusion, keep the infusion temperature, but shorten the infusion period to approx. 1 minute. Then slowly increase the infusion period from one follow-up infusion to another. This way, our TKY Chunxinag will produce a series of delicious infusions..
Of course, Tie Guan Yin can also be prepared in a more western way, with 3-5 minutes steeping for a first infusion. This way, 2-3 individual infusions will have a more intensive taste, but still develop no bitterness at all.
Alternatively, please also see our Tie Guan Yin Qingxiang (Delicate Fragrance), as well as for more detailed backgrounds and information to Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea in general our pertaining articles in Siam Tea Blog, Sourcing Tee in China – Chapter I: The Plan + Tie Guan Yin and Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea – Qingxiang vs. Chunxiang.