Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Anxi Tieguanyin by thsu

Only one month left for the harvesting of the new spring Anxi Tieguanyin.

Just to recap and frantically "destroying" all my 05 spring and fall pick daily, hoping to remember and find new notes/adventures in them before they perish.

Acquired 3 grades of the spring 05 light Anxi Tieguanyin competition grade last May in Anxi, Fujian. Most of the top grade pricing are based on Min-nan tea judging association, national tieguanyin tea judging association and Fujin Province Anxi tea cultural and judging panel, as I was told....

One of the tea was generously given as a gift by tea master Huang from Quanzhou. This oolong tea costed over 1200 US per 375g and the competition winners could easily double or triple the price. Anxi Tieguanyin's pricing are climbing steadily like pureh every season. Each 6g pallet is vacuum sealed and carefully exam before packing for individual brewing.

The high grade tea are from individual farmers that harvest one bag per season. Each invoice weighing around 60-80 pounds in a nylon bag is usually purchase by the vendor off their farm and brought back to the vendor's shop for further processing and grading.

Other Tea vendors, judges and farmers will flock to a respectable shop to critique, evaluate and compete with one another every season. They will bring their special selections and do tasting thru out the day. It's quite an experience to see them judging continually 3 to 4 specimens at a time and giving the tea less then 10 mins to confirm its position. This festive activities could go on thru mid-night in the height of the harvesting seasons. With a lot of yelling, moment of silence, handshakes and disagreements and I did caught in one of these.

Smelling from the lit of a Gaiwan usually is the quickest way for these experts to reject or carry-on the tasting. Worthy selections will then taste/brew for 3 times, and if the selections are very competitive, it may goes on for 5 or 7 rounds.

Tea experts in these region are looking for the "Yin Wan" characteristic from this tea.

The "Yin" in this tea from my humble knowledge refers to the calming sound, tranquility and elegance of the Guanyin "Goddess of Mercy". Observing the sound of the world and to have a moment of peace is the key to this tea. This senses are a combination of opening up the smell, taste and the finishes. Not to be fragrance to overpowering, too sweet and fruity to overwhelm ones taste bud nor without finishes to keep you in the peaceful state of mind.

It took me a long while to understand and become an epicurean on this tea. People oven compare Anxi oolong to Taiwanese cousin. Yes, they are both call Min-nan tea and the good Taiwanese Oolong tea can trace their roots back to Anxi (Fujin) 170 years ago. But the processing method and result are apples vs oranges. Most Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong consist of 2 leaves, a bud and a stem rolled into a ball. Anxi Tieguanyin consist only one leave which rolled into a ball. The de-stemming process and the breaking down of the edges of the leaves gives the tea a very different finish and character.

This Anxi Tieguanyin I am writing about is from Xiping where the original oolong tree were found (above pic.). A May 3rd harvest, 700m. 5-8% Fermentation. No roasting.

I am using a blanc-de-chine 4oz gaiwan / 6g tea for the brewing.

Dry Leaves:
2 tone green, dark and light lime. Tightly rolled and still have a sheen gloss to it (10 months old). Heavy. Clearly individual leaf w/o steam. Floral/fruit and clean.

Wet Leaves:
1.5 inch. Broken edges around. Some have slight Red hue edges. Sweet, honey nectar, peaches, clean floral bouquet.

liquor color:
clear, pale squash yellow with a glowing hint of light olive green. (dense)

Brewing steps:
Instant rinse (fish eye) 195F sit covered 15s

INF1: 15s
More aroma then taste. Light floral, sweet peaches, honey and hint of nectar all seems to be covered by a silky blanket.
All these layer of complexity are hiding in the liquor, yet not showing the full complexity.

INF2: 35s,
An explosion of flavor and aroma of sweeties/flower/honey/fruit. Carry on by the finish from the INF1, my senses alerted and lifted to a higher awareness. The peach fragrance and taste are the most pronounce, follow by honey, floral nectar of different layers.

INF3: 50s,
Combining with first and second aftertaste, the layers of intensity build-up. Besides such intensity of the previous finishes, there is a refreshing and calming sensation from the stomach thru my throat and mouth into my mind. No sharpness or bitterness/tartness to these brews at all, even the tea is light ferm. The tasting are balance with no greenness and astringency comparing to a good Li Shan. The mild-floral aftertaste penetrated into all my senses and resided.

New Water (crab eye) almost 195F

INF4: 20s
The mild-floral aroma is taken over by the taste. A transformation of honey to nectar, the mouth feel intensify and thicken. I guess from my knowledge, the floral bouquet will be identify as Chinese orchid (a grass spices)? I also remembered there was these waist height white flowering tree planted in the farm as divider. The flower have a intense clean fragrance to it and are in full blossom in May, but can not remember the name....

INF5: 30s
All the character of aroma and taste married into one in this brew. I did stretched the limit on the 4th brew by increasing the water temp.

The color changed towards yellowish, the hint of green disappeared. However, the liquor wasn't bitter-up by so. I feel really calm and tranquil by now, not bored by it; instead am enjoying the waves of taste and aroma from the previous aftertaste coming from my stomach.

INF6: 50s
I am enjoying the state of mind this tea is giving me, perhaps is over but the sensation of this tea lingers. No intense sweeties of a high mountain Taiwanese aftertaste created by the astringency of stems (which I usually anticipate for) nor the highly floral bouquet which cover my mouth for 15mins. Almost like a great well kept 50s hong yin, elegant and well-balance without loudness and screaming for attention.

I guess I can brew this in a different way, dividing it up into more layers and try to identify and breaking it down with lower temp and shorter steeping? But I rather enjoy it my way and keeping it romantic, hopefully people who have more experience on this can share their methods and bring me to a high stage.

I had the pleasure to share this tea with a tea friend from Texas last summer, when I first brought them back. And quite a shame of never have the motivation to write down any notes, until now....

If anyone do not mind this last year tea for a tasting or "destroying" them, I would gladly share them with.


TeaMasters said...

Hi Timothy,

It's been a long time I didn't read you online. Nice to see you still have time to enjoy tea excellence.
I'm currently using the colder Taipei weather to drink more puerh. The only light oxidized oolongs I drink are 2 Da Yu Lings (1800 and 2200 meters elevation respectively.) My 300 gr green Anxi TGY from spring 2004 is not used up yet. I've had a time when I drank it a lot, but less lately. Your post makes me want to plunge again... when the weather improves

toki said...

I love Da Yu Lings! You only have the best my friend.
And How are you Stephane? Sorry for not posting : (
Remember the sample I'd send you? Are you interested in the TGY I have? Can sent you some if you like. Let me know.

Anonymous said...


"Yin yun 音韻" is I think what you meant by "yin wan" (that sounds like a Cantonese pronounciation, perhaps it's also pronounced similarly in Minnan dialect). Literally it means resonance, referring to music/sounds. In this case, it specifically refers to the characteristics aftertaste of a tieguanyin that lingers around your throat that other oolongs do not have. The character yin also refers to the "yin" of tieguanyin, since they are the same character, so there's a bit of a double meaning there. Some people call it the "guanyin yun".

Similarly, rock teas have a "yan yun" 岩韻, at least in Cantonese tea drinking parlance. That refers to that particularly strong aftertaste that coats the back of your tongue for rock teas like a good Dahongpao.

It is to my knowledge that last year's spring pick tieguanyin was not the best, as I was told so by more than one tea merchant. I had some while in Hong Kong this past winter, and indeed it was a little disappointing compared with past years.