Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea from the southeast Chinese province of Fujian: the history of Tie Guan Yin Oolong, one of the most popular teas worldwide and ranking No. 2 on the official Top Ten of the most popular Chinese teas, has its origin in Anxi county, Fujian province, and reaches back to the first half of the 18th century (ca. 1725 – 1735). Other than in Taiwan, where the term Tie Guan Yin merely stands for the complex processing method of this tea, the original Tie Guan Yin cultivated in Anxi means a defined tea plant variety. Other designations, created by western variations of the Chinese term, are Ti Guan Yin, Tie Kuan Yin, Tie Guanyin or simply the abbreviated form TKY. In China, this tea is also often referred to as Iron Goddess, Iron Goddess of Mercy, or Iron Bodhisattva of Mercy, originating from an old Chinese legend that tells a story about the origin of this tea.
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 (Bodhisattva) of mercy and compassion. A porr 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 and thought 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, swept the temple grounds with the broom and lit the incenses as an offering to the goddess, a ritual that he should repeat twice a month from now on. 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, which he was to find and share with others. The next day, Mr. Wei took on searching for the cave, found it, and the treasure hidden therein revealed itsself as a single tea shoot. Mr. Wei planted the shoot, and soon a tea plant was growing from it that produced a particularly fine and special tea. Mr. Wei 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 itsself a name nationwide for its delicate and unique taste. In the time that followed, the farmers of Anxi county prospered thanks to this tea and gave it the name Tie Guan Yin, this meaning Tea from the Goddess Guanyin, in order to honor the goddess and thank her for the great gift.
Though a legende, it is still fact that today most of the farmers in Anxi county – owed to the Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea, maintain a certain modest prosperity: the region virtually lives of the Tie Guan Yin tea, which is traditionally processed as an Oolong tea and is generally considered as China’s most expensive tea. However, the Ti Guan Yin plant is not only a very special tea plant species, but also the processing method of the Tie Guan Yin involves a special and particularly complex and elaborate harvesting and processing method, which might be known to us today in broad outline, however the details are still kept as their special secret by the tea farmers of Anxi county. The processing method of the tea leaves of the Tie Guan Yin tea plant is divided in 7 steps:
3. Breaking up of leaf surfaces
As a particularity with the harvesting of the Tie Guan Yin tea leaves, it has to be mentioned that other than with most other Oolong teas, no shoots / tips are harvested, but only the fully mature tea leaves below the fresh tips, a process that makes the handpicking of the leaves virtually indispensable for a high quality Tie Guan Yin tea. The proper selection of the tea leaves to be picked ensures that the tea won’t get bitter even with longer infusion periods, while especially the young shoots of the TKY are unusually bitter indeed, which is why they are not harvested. Traditionally, Tie Guan Yin is alternatively processed to either a very lightly fermented or a very heavily fermented Oolong tea. However, due to modern taste trends, the only lightly fermented and baked (roasted) versions are dominating today’s market, and this also applies to our “Tie Guan Yin Chunxiang Mellow Tea Type”, which has a very low degree of fermentation and is extremely gently roasted. The color of the tea liquor with its shiny bright yellow-green reflects this low degree of fermentation.
We like to describe the taste of our Tie Guan Yin with the extremely apt attribute “velvet and silk”. The unique floral notes reveal themselves to the tea drinker on the one hand clear and pure, on the other hand with an unprecedented softness that essentially contributes further to the uniqueness of this tea.
In Anxi, Tie Guan Yin is cultivated at altitudes between 300 and 1000 meters, with climate conditions comparable to those of other Chinese Oolong teas, typically with morning fog, diffuse light conditions and moderate temperatures. The tea plants are harvested four times a year, once in spring, twice during summer, and a fourth time in autumn. Each of these harvest shows its own special taste characteristics, whereas the spring and the autumn harvests generally enjoy the highest appreciation.
With the describe climate conditions, the Tie Guan Yin will develop its particularly high content of aminophenol components (amino acids) in the tea leaves, which is giving this tea is very unique taste, along with other special quality characteristics.
Our producer partner in Anxi county, the Dongquin family, looking back on many generations of history and experience in the cultivation and processing of Tie Guan Yin, divides 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). Decisive for the subtle difference between Quingxiang (grade A) and Chunxiang (grade A+) Tie Guan Yin is the age of the tea plant: the younger the tea plant, the finer and higher quality the tea its leaf produces, wherea both taste and aroma are even more pronounced than with the Quingxiang. The tea farmers in Anxi dig out the old tea plants every 7-9 years to replace them with young ones.
Preparation: after heating your teapot or gaiwan with the hot water, use ca. 5 grams of Tie Kuan Yin to be poured over with 250ml water of a temperature of 90-100°C. Leave the first infusion for little less than 1 minute (ca. 45 sec). Apply the same infusion period for a second infusion, thean gradually increase the infusion period with every infusion. This way, our TKY Qingxiang will produce 5 – 7 full value infusion.
Of course, Tie Guan Yin can also be prepared in a more western way, with infusion periods of 2-3 minutes/infusion. This way, the individual infusions will have a slightly more intensive taste, but will 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.