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Tie Guan Yin – Anxi, Fujian Province

The Legendary Anxi Tie Guan Yin

The Legends

Tie Guan Yin is so popular that for many, it was their introduction to oolong teas, and it is one of the most famous Chinese teas. You might know this tea under the names such as Ti Kuan Yin (Cantonese pronunciation), Iron Goddess of Mercy (direct English translations), and other forms. Rising from a well-known local oolong tea to become a nationally famous tea, even for those who don’t that oolong is a tea catagory may well have heard of Tie Guan Yin. The success of Tie Guan Yin is indeed legendary.

There are two version of the origin of this tea – the “Wang” and “Wei” stories. In the “Wang” version, Mr. Wang discovered this tea and presented to Emperor Qianlong. The name of Tie Guan Yin was then given by the Emperor. In the “Wei” version, it was the Goddess of Mercy who enlightened Mr. Wang in a dream as to the location of this tea plant. Mr. Wei gave the name of Tie Guan Yin in honor of the Goddess of Mercy. Both versions are recorded in genealogical records, and neither of them was officially recognized by the government. Interestingly, the “Wei” version is the more popular of the two. Of course a tale involving visions of goddesses is usually more fun to talk about.

Guan Yin Hong

It was late April when we arrived in Anxi. While the season was finished for most green teas, it hadn’t even begun here for Tie Guan Yin. The cold snap that destroyed the first batch of the buds combined with the relatively low temperature of this spring season delayed the start of oolong in almost all regions, since Tie Guan Yin requires mature leaves rather than buds.

While waiting for the leaves to mature, the tender young leaves and buds are made into a black tea call Guan Yin Hong (Tie Guan Yin black tea). This is the a recent innovation for the Tie Guan Yin cultivar and has been quite successful, partially because it’s borrowing the fame of Tie Guan Yin, but also because the taste of it is quite interesting. It’s a nice departure from the traditional black tea flavor profile which is typically floral and fruity. This tea however has a unique dryness (as opposed to sweetness) giving it a more masculine side, and when processed properly it renders a beautifully pure and clear taste. It’s hard for me to describe the flavour, but it’s definitely something worth trying.

But wait... there's more!

Our stop in Axi was the longest stay of our whole trip. We not only witnessed the processing of batches of Guan Yin Hong and Tie Guan Yin, but we tested our skills by processing handmade black and oolong teas at a professional level.  By ‘professional level’ I mean we strictly followed the traditional handmade process in hopes of reaching the best flavour of the tea and we evaluated the resulting tea just like how we do for our other teas.  This step by step first-hand experience greatly deepened our understanding of the process and the tea.

Stay tuned! I’ll be writing about these processes in detail and I’ll explain how profoundly the process can affect the final taste of the tea.

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