The tea industry in China generally follows a fixed pattern - crazy in April/May with the harvest, manic in summer selling fresh stocks, winter spent doing....well, pretty much nothing. Today's tea is one that breaks the pattern.
Iron Buddha (tie guan yin) enjoys a very successful Autumn harvest, which many people consider to be better than the May harvest - the leaves are often fruitier, more flavoursome and bolder in October. We've just updated our Iron Buddha stocks now with the Autumn harvest from our long term partner and tea farmer Su Wei Bo in Anxi, so here's some detailed tasting notes and brewing tips!
As always, our trusty white gong fu tea set is on point, and we'll be using 7g of tea leaves brewed with 100ml of 95 degree Celsius water (just off the boil). We always 'wash' the leaves first (a very quick douse in the boiled water and then drain) because it helps wash off any dust that has got onto the leaves.
The leaves are fairly small this time, quite tightly wound and quite uniform in size. They're also generally darker in colour than some other Iron Buddha's we've tasted previously - I'd say overall the dry leaves are slightly less attractive than earlier harvests, although it doesn't really have any bearing on the taste.
After a quick 30-second steep, I'm immediately struck by the mouth-feel of this tea. It's silky smooth and very clean on the tongue, a little spicy, but with an aroma and flavour hugely reminiscent of teas I've tasted in Anxi itself (ie. literally-just-finished-production teas). It's hard to place - the taste is fresh, and hugely oolongy; I can't explain it otherwise, but it's a purer oolong taste, without the milky, buttery tastes that sometimes distract the palette. I'll see if the second brew clears it up...
Steeped for 1 minute this time, the liquor is stronger in the nose and clearly the second steep is much more mature. The leaves have retained a lot of depth and colour, still slowly unravelling. The "spicy" oolong taste is coming through now - it's thistles, summer grass, and fresh olives, very sharp and cleansing. In Chinese it's called se (涩), which translates as tart or astringent, words that don't do it justice. I'll go for a jin pao now, a long 5 minute steep that I first learned about in Anxi.
Incredibly, after 5 minutes stewing in the boiling water, the first sip is not even slightly bitter - an incredibly good indicator. The origins of a jin pao (long steep) are to allow tea tasters to evaluate all of the good and bad of a tea, by literally steeping it so long that everything comes out of the leaf. Bad teas will go bitter and offer nothing else, whereas good teas will just offer thick and heavy layers of taste.
There's a really strong hua xiang now, literally a "flower fragrance". It's a magnolia taste, deep and sitting nicely alongside the original oolong taste I mentioned. Chinese tea tasting tends to be very strict, with tasters looking for very specific attributes among their teas. This hua xiang is one of the key attributes of any Iron Buddha.
This is overall probably the least wild example of Iron Buddha that we've purchased, in terms of taste. We tend to look for teas that offer a huge range of taste and "wow" moments.
That said, this is what I'd consider an exceptional tea for the Chinese market - no bitterness, very pure taste, and a very strong hua xiang magnolia fragrance.
This was written by Chris West
Tea for me is all about that "aha" moment when you try a truly great tea for the first time. I live in Fuzhou, China and enjoy anything that helps me appreciate Chinese culture more (currently tea, martial arts and history books!). Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org