Monday, February 27, 2006

Shan Shui Premium Winter Tieguanyin 2004 and 2005

Premium Winter 2004 Tieguanyin
Premium Winter 2005 Tieguanyin

There is now an 05 Premium Winter as well as the previous 04 Premium Winter Tieguanyin to choose from. Brian Wright emailed me some very good tasting notes on both which helped me decide. At least in a manner of speaking. I decided to order both because it was a tough call as to which I might prefer. Even yet it's a pleasantly tough call to say which I prefer as I like the subtle differences in each. Just as the vendor notes, the 05 comes across as a touch 'lighter,' which is not to say it doesn't carry a fullness of its own, just lighter to me in comparison to the 04. The 05 really comes through with that ripe fruit against the toasty aroma (which vendor calls 'smoky'), and the fruit-sweet does come into the finish of the tea, lingering as an aftertaste. The website notes that the tea was 'baked conventionally' but that the aroma is 'very similar to that of charcoal-baked Tieguanyin.' It's that quality that I think of as toasty, though it also has a woody association to me as well. These teas are not the style of Tieguanyin that comes through with a more singular floral note.

Though the vendor calls the 05 'reminiscent of baked sweet potato,' I keep wanting to say that there is a lighter citrusy quality to the 05 that lingers into the finish. It's a bit brighter in fruit tone than the deeper 04. Both aromas have that fruity character, but the 05 registers higher on the aromatic scale, which gives it that bright note that lingers rather differently into the finish.

I often go back to the mental image of walking in a forest when I try and pin down these elusive differences. The 04 is an older forest where the treetops overhang and merge with each other, blocking out sunlight. The 05 is a newer growth forest that has more sunlight filtering through the branches. If the character of the tea was a feeling, you could close your eyes and feel the difference on the back of your neck and shoulders. In the new forest (05 Tieguanyin), you take in the woody depth around you but feel a slant of sunlight filter in and warm the back of your neck and brighten the darkness of the trees. In a similar way, the 2005 tea has a more citrusy brightness that gives you a pleasant sensation of sunlight on the back of the neck. It is a quality that somehow enlivens the 05 Tieguanyin, just as the feeling of sunlight/warmth can break in on a cloudy day and suddenly give the room a different atmosphere.

I was quite happily drinking a Shan Shui Tieguanyin last February, too, and posted: We have had a 30 mph wind whipping the snow across the roads today and sending dry leaves skittering over the crusted yard snow like demented birds. Lovely to sink into a tea that exudes so much warmth, both literally and in the pictures it conjures up with that heady fruit and flower aroma and taste.

Today there is no snow (yet) but we have had a day of chilly rain that is supposed to turn back to snow at some point tonight or tomorrow. That is why I've been craving this particular Tieguanyin. I like the contrast of the flavor/aroma against this cold time of year. As I have lived with both these teas a bit longer, I am leaning slightly toward the 2005 Tieguanyin with that note that mentally transfers as 'bright sunshine.' It just is, as Brian Wright observed in an email, a bit more 'interesting,' though yes it is a 'stylistic preference.'

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