on a recent trip to Xiamen city, Fujian province, I had the occasion to meet with a number of tea hobbiests who helped shed a new light for me on the current realities of tieguanyin tea.
Tieguanyin is a type of Oolong tea coming from the Anxi region of Fujian province, which is just a hop skip and a jump from Xiamen. The whole general area around this region produces various types of tea which are similar to Tieguanyin,
a small list includes:
Tieguanyin: From the high mountain area of Anxi,
Mao Xie Oolong: from the low mountain area between Anxi and Xiamen, as well as Dehua and some other counties.
Ben Shan oolong: grown in many low mountain areas around the region.
Fo Shou Oolong: grown mainly in Chang Chun region.
There are others of course, but these four are the most important.
of them all, Tieguanyin is by far the most popular.
This is due to its excellent taste, sweetness, and physical characteristics such as how it can open up the throat and chest and allow one to feel as though their breathing is improved and their body is more comfortable.
Good Tieguanyin is considered to be among the very highest grade of Oolong teas, sharing that place with the famous Da Hong Pao of wuyi mountain.
Good tieguanyin is quite rare though and before my recent trip, I didn’t know exactly why, but it has become more clear to me since chatting with a few people who really know this tea.
The first fellow I chatted with was a tea hobbiest from Xiamen named Wang. He was introduced by a mutual friend and showed me some of the best tea I’ve ever drank.
He explained that it is often the case that very high quality tea is made in much smaller amounts than cheaper tea, and that to buy the best teas from Anxi, one would generally have to have excellent social contacts in the tea industry. His tea tasted like a wall of sweetness and a lovely herbal aftertaste which is only found in the very best lightly oxidized teas. I lamented that I personally wouldn’t be able to find this grade of green Tieguanyin in China and he laughed at me saying “because they wouldn’t be willing to sell it to you!”
The second person I met was named Chen, he was introduced by the same friend, and is a tea production professional who has been studying coal firing tea for the last twenty years.
Chen told me about how his workshop works and why it is so hard to get high quality baked tieguanyin. i had previously often wondered why the Taiwanese tea producers were so much better at baking tea than the farmers at Anxi, as it turns out, most farmers are Anxi are not concerned with making high quality baked tea, but prefer to sell light green tieguanyin that has not been particularly baked. I remember from a previous visit to a tieguanyin farm that the baking was mainly done in a massive over which would have been quite hard to control and thus often burned the tea.
Mr.Chen explained that baking with coal was very rare in Anxi, but he had personally set up a workshop there. He preferred to do coal baking in Anxi because the price of setting up a workshop in Xiamen was simply too high, and when baking tea, he needed to hire workers to watch the process for twenty four hours a day during the two weeks or processing it takes to make tieguanyin by coal.
He also explained to me that the best green tieguanyin is left partially un-oxidized and as a result goes stale very fast if not refrigerated.
Consider how much green tieguanyin is sold outside of China and shipped overseas in temperature uncontrolled environments, how could this not have an effect on the taste of the end product?
It had previously never been my habit to drink green tieguanyin, except on the very rare occasion that I was offered a semi fermented tea kept in storage by a farmer, or some other special tea, but I always assumed it was just a problem with the leaves. As it turns out, green tieguanyin is very complex and there are many factors that go into it being both one of the best teas in China and being one of the most problematic!!!
I learned many other things this time in Xiamen, and will be making more blog posts about the trip very soon.
From 2017 forward, we will be carrying new coal and machine fired tieguanyin in our store that I got from Mr.Chen. His tea is very high quality and he is an honest person, so I like to deal with him.
More posts to come!!