2009 Winter Tie Guan Yin - Taiwan Oolong Tea
Tie Guan Yin from Taiwan is a very different tea from its counterpart from Fujian. While the current trend in mainland China is to leave Tie Guan Yin oolongs un-roasted and in their ultra-green and ultra fragrant state, Tie Guan Yin from Taiwan is usually a dark & fully roasted tea. In fact, this dark roast has become almost synonymous with Tie Guan Yin in Taiwan, so often times any ball-shaped oolong tea from Taiwan that has been dark roasted is called Tie Guan Yin by local merchants, even though the plant it was produced from may or may not have been the Tie Guan Yin cultivar.
Since the intense floral nature of un-roasted Tie Guan Yin just doesn’t fit with regional Taiwan tea tastes & preferences, it makes sense that the traditional methods from Fujian province of tempering the strong floral/sweet aroma and flavor of intensely aromatic teas through a complicated roasting process has continued to be the norm in Taiwanese tea culture.
This Tie Guan Yin was produced entirely from hand picked, Winter harvest, 2009 Tie Guan Yin cultivar tea plants grown in Jenai Township of Nantou county, Taiwan. The leaves were allowed to oxidize about 30% of the way before they underwent the “kill green” firing to stop the oxidation process. At this point in processing, this Tie Guan Yin was as aromatic and green as its counterparts from Fujian province; however, this intense floral aroma is considered overpowering and undesirable by the traditional tea producers (and consumers) in Taiwan. To see for myself whether or not this was true, I actually sent some of our Diamond Grade Tie Guan Yin from Anxi, Fujian (an extremely floral & aromatic tea) to one of our tea grower friends in Taiwan last year, and I was amused but not surprised to find out that they considered it to be “raw” or “unfinished” tasting.
The all-important roasting process for this tea was done by a very experienced tea master in the traditional fashion over a period of several weeks using glowing (not flaming) charcoal that has been covered with ash (usually from burned rice hulls) to prevent flare ups and smokey tastes from penetrating & overpowering the tea flavor. With a lengthy roasting process like this one, there is always a danger of burning the tea, so it is roasted & cooled several times over a period of weeks to avoid ruining the leaves. The finished product is what I would definitely consider a traditional “full” roast, and the producer refers to this tea as 80% roasted. The resulting flavor of the finished product is a sublime mix of dark roasted grain and dried fruits and flowers. These tea leaves create a rich & mouth-coating tea liquor, and the aftertaste is lingering, roasty, nutty, and sweet.
The roast is quite dark, but to my palate it creates a much more intriguing, deep, soft & soothing tea experience than the simply floral “green” Tie Guan Yin oolongs from the Mainland. Both the green and dark roasted styles of Tie Guan Yin have their place in a well-stocked tea cabinet for sure, and I strongly encourage all the lovers of “green” style Tie Guan Yin to try this style too.