When it comes to Chinese loose-leaf tea, you may have heard of TieGuanyin. TieGuanyin is highly popular in China, and its presence can be found in various teahouses and restaurants from the north to the south. TieGuanyin can be considered synonymous with Chinese oolong tea.
So, why is TieGuanyin so well-received? The popularity of TieGuanyin is closely related to its captivating taste and aroma, superior growing conditions, excellent tea tree varieties, and exquisite production techniques, among various other factors.
What is TieGuanyin tea?
TieGuanyin holds a high reputation among China's top ten famous teas and is one of the best loose leaf tea. TieGuanyin is not only the name of the tea but also the name of the tea tree variety. Its name is derived from its leaves, which are as heavy as iron, and its appearance is beautiful with an inner quality reminiscent of Guanyin. As it is produced in Anxi County, it is often referred to as "Anxi TieGuanyin."
TieGuanyin tea falls between green tea and black tea, belonging to the category of semi-fermented tea. It possesses a unique "Guanyin charm," with a clear and elegant fragrance. After brewing, TieGuanyin has a natural orchid aroma, a pure and strong flavor, and a lasting, rich fragrance, earning it the reputation of "remaining fragrant for more than seven infusions."
In addition to TieGuanyin, China also boasts various classic oolong teas such as Da Hong Pao, Fenghuang Dancong, each with its own distinct characteristics that leave a lasting impression after consumption. Chinese oolong tea gift sets make excellent gifts for family and friends.
The Taste and Aroma of TieGuanyin
TieGuanyin can be categorized into three types: Qingxiang (Light Aroma), Nongxiang (Strong Aroma), and Chenxiang (Aged Aroma). To determine which type of TieGuanyin suits your preferences best, it is recommended to try tea sampler by purchasing small quantities and discover the TieGuanyin that you enjoy.
1.Qingxiang (Light Aroma) TieGuanyin
Qingxiang TieGuanyin is dried using low heat. It has a glossy, jade-green appearance, a clear and refreshing aroma, a crisp taste, and the tea liquor is a golden-yellow with a hint of green.
2.Nongxiang (Strong Aroma) TieGuanyin
Nongxiang TieGuanyin is dried through baking. Its appearance tends to be more dark and lustrous. It features a rich and persistent fragrance, with complex floral and caramel notes. The taste is mellow, and the liquor is golden-yellow with a hint of orange.
3.Chenxiang (Aged Aroma) TieGuanyin
Chenxiang TieGuanyin is either Qingxiang or Nongxiang TieGuanyin that has been stored for a minimum of five years after baking. The tea leaves have a dark brown color with a slight yellow tint. The aged fragrance is evident, and the taste is mellow. The liquor is a clear, deep red color.
The Superior Growing Environment of TieGuanyin
Anxi County boasts a unique geographical environment with excellent soil and climate conditions. The entire county spans an elevation range of 40 to 1000 meters, sloping from northwest to southeast. The eastern half consists mainly of low hills and ridges, with elevations typically ranging from 100 to 300 meters. The terrain is relatively flat, featuring numerous river valleys and plains.
The western half has a more abrupt topography, with elevations mostly between 600 and 800 meters. The area is characterized by overlapping mountain peaks, shrouded in clouds and mist, and falls under a subtropical monsoon climate. There is abundant rainfall, distinct seasons, with an average annual temperature of 16 to 21°C and an annual rainfall of 1600 to 1800 millimeters. TieGuanyin thrives and flourishes in such a unique natural and geographical environment.
Tea Tree Varieties of TieGuanyin
Anxi is a renowned repository of excellent tea tree varieties in China, with a tea production history spanning over a thousand years. This region produces a variety of high-quality loose leaf tea. The county has identified more than forty tea tree varieties, and TieGuanyin is among the excellent varieties.
The cultivation of TieGuanyin has a history of over 300 years. The plants have a shrub-like growth pattern, with a spreading crown and branches that slope upwards. The leaves are horizontally arranged, elliptical, with slightly concave and slanting leaf tips. The leaf margins are sparsely blunt-toothed, with a slight backward curl. The leaves are thick and have a wavy convex shape, exhibiting distinct rib patterns. The leaves are a deep green color, glossy, and the tender shoots are plump with a slight purple tint, commonly known as "red bud with a twisted tail peach." The budding period refers to the late budding varieties around the vernal equinox.
The Exquisite Craftsmanship of TieGuanyin
The beauty of TieGuanyin is inseparable from the precision of its production techniques in Anxi. The craftsmanship of TieGuanyin has been recognized as a national-level intangible cultural heritage in China since as early as 2008.
The standards for plucking fresh leaves for TieGuanyin are very high. Harvesting must take place after the tender shoots have formed buds, and when the top leaves are just starting to open slightly from small to medium-sized surfaces. The second and third leaves are then picked. Following the traditional manufacturing process, the freshly harvested leaves undergo over a dozen steps, including cooling, sun-drying, additional cooling, Zuoqing, pan-firing, rolling, initial baking, wrapping, secondary baking, secondary wrapping, slow roasting over a low flame, and sorting, before the refined tea can be produced.
Among these steps, the technicality and flexibility involved in Zuoqing are crucial in the production of loose leaf oolong tea and are also key factors in the quality of TieGuanyin. The shaking process of Zuoqing involves agitating the leaves, causing friction along the edges and disrupting the cells on the leaf margins. After the agitation, the leaves are allowed to rest, and as the moisture gradually evaporates at specific temperature and humidity conditions, the polyphenols in the leaves undergo enzymatic reactions and slowly oxidize. This results in a series of chemical changes, giving rise to the distinctive qualities of oolong tea, including TieGuanyin.
I hope this article can provide everyone with more insights into TieGuanyin, helping to understand the reasons behind the popularity of this tea. The elegant floral aroma and refreshing aftertaste of TieGuanyin have captivated many. Perhaps, each person's understanding of TieGuanyin may vary, but it doesn't hinder our collective love for this tea and our shared enjoyment of its beauty.