Tieguanyin is one of the most popular teas in the world, but its overall points of production are very limited and it has for some time now also been considered as one of the great “problem teas” of China. This infamy is mainly related to the often out of control chemical use at anxi, the home of tieguanyin in fujian PRC. Having said that, the reputation is not entirely deserved, and I want to take some time today to discuss the key aspects of a high quality tieguanyin in china and Taiwan
Firstly, I’d like to make the assertion that industrially produced tea is almost never as good as family produced tea. One of the biggest problems facing tea buyers is that the amount of industrially produced tea on the market outweighs small farm produced tea by staggering proportions.
One of the biggest factors influencing industrial crops is that it is simply not possible to have enough skilled workers on site to be able to give the tea the attention it needs to be top grade material. Industrial farms are looking to maintain certain specific standards for whole sale pricing, so basically, the quality of their tea will remain the same from year to year. This is done by blending of various qualities of leaf, and different cultivars. In the case of tieguanyin, it is quite common for benshan oolong and maoxie oolong to be blended in or substituted for real tieguanyin in order to bring prices down. These low mountain teas are easier to harvest by machine, meaning that their yields are larger and their price is lower. This indicates the first big problem with tieguanyin, which is availability of genuine leaf material. It is a simple fact that much of what is sold as tieguanyin is in fact made with a cheaper and easier to grow cultivar or cultivars. The next problem is that mass produced tea fields are almost always controlled for pesticides by using heavy amounts of farm chemicals. This is especially true in valley area farms where the heat and mositurw attracts many pests who eat and destroy tea crops. Heavy pesticide use is gross and sometimes unsafe. Tieguanyin sold by one major Chinese label made it into a marketplace study done by CBC which showed it to contain 17 different pesticides, on one leaf, some of which are banned internationally.
These problems are hugely prevelent in anxi, and don’t think that because Taiwan’s tieguanyin is grown far away from there that it does not also experience this problem. There are many fawianese producers who import tea from anxi and bake it in Taiwan, so the problem of dangerous and fake teas is also very common there .
The best tea is made by experts in production, and so whether it is a small and dedicated family farm with a long history of tea making, or it is an expert work person who has developed their craft over many years, it is important to track down suppliers who are serious about good production practices.
Here are the key differences between Taiwanese and Chinese tieguanyin:
– Chinese tieguanyin is often green and unbaked while Taiwan tieguanyin is always baked.
– baked Chinese tieguanyin leaves usually open up in a curled form and have to be spread out to make them flat after you are done soaking them (people often open tea leaves for inspection after brewing). Taiwan leaves usually open flat after being fully brewed (only very high end Chinese tieguanyin does this, and it is almost never baked)
– the perfume of Chinese and Taiwanese tieguanyin is different, with the Chinese teas usually having a stronger smell.
– both leaves usually follow a plucking standard of one leaf and a stem.
Regardless of what region the tea comes from, it should be sweet, have a large perfume, cause the throat and chest to relax and open after drinking, and have a somewhat orchid like floral perfume. Tieguanyin is an astringent cultivar and unless it is very high quality, usually there will be some astringency or slight bitterness in the taste. Taiwan makes up for this through oxidization and baking, while Chinese tieguanyin often keeps the astringency, but the workmanship used brings out the perfume more strongly and as a result the astringent taste is covered (many older people don’t drink tieguanyin because it hurts their stomachs).
I personally tend to feel that Taiwanese tieguanyin is higher quality than that of China, but the farms producing genuine tieguanyin in Taiwan are few and far between and most of them produce other types of tea which are then processed as tieguanyin and sold at lower prices. Cukti