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Tieguanyin, Iron Goddess of Mercy

February 25, 2017

 

Every morning when I wake up, I look out the window, observe and listen. It's an unusually warm winter day, the birds singing, the bare trees completely still. I breathe deeply, close my eyes, and focus on my internal temperature. The environment, my mood, and the way I feel physically, all play a role in how I select my daily tea.

 

Today, I am in the mood for Tieguanyin, "Iron Goddess of Mercy." A Chinese wulong (aka, "oolong") developed in Anxi, Fujian in the 19th century, it is one of the most soothing teas I have ever tasted. Its color a unique, peachy-golden brew that I have not seen in any other tea. This Goddess has a pungent caramel-forward note, which sweetens the palate and steadies it for the multi-faceted character it delivers slowly over many quick steeps, as the leaves slowly unfurl from their tightly rolled state.

 

The depth of this tea comes from a complex processing technique, the leaves picked, withered, oxidized about 40%, rolled, roasted (or not as is now often the case). At first glance these steps feel pretty standard, but Tieguanyin requires skillful and experienced craftsmanship to produce, the true recipe hard to come by. This results in poor quality versions of the tea appearing on the market. While some are green and others medium-roasted, the most sought-after is the traditional fully roasted version I continue to fall deeply in love with. Still, tasting upon tasting is necessary, in search of great balance in a single tea. 

 

I have made Tieguanyin, a personal journey, constantly looking for that special one. One of China's top ten, it is produced from a cultivar that shares its name. In my private stash, I have a delightful medium-roasted 2015 and a fully roasted and aged version from 1992 that is as elegant and robust as it is balanced. Both delicious with similarities that make them unmistakably Tieguanyin, yet so different, I will drink them for different reasons on any given day. The older of the two has a great deal of depth, which develops over years of careful storage, provided the tea is of top quality to begin with.

 

My 1992 stash is rich with curious hints of bitter chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans balanced with a subtle floral undercurrent that releases a lingering sweet finish. Each steep delivers fluctuating degrees of this recurring theme. The mouthfeel is quite lush, coating my tongue, making me salivate long after the leaves have offered their last steep.

 

And, if you're trying to give up coffee, this is the tea that will help you along the journey!

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