Traditionally made Iron Buddha (Tieguanyin) Oolong tea has been one of the banes and loves of my life. When it’s made right, its perfect. I think about it most days, especially when I don’t have any.
Tieguanyin is a type (cultivar) of tea tree grown mainly in Anxi in China’s Fujian province. After picking it’s almost always made into oolong tea. When I say ‘Traditional Iron Buddha’, I mean a Tieguanyin Oolong tea which is oxidised approximately 30% and medium fired. This is what I like. It’s got complexity, smoothness and a peachy quality complemented by notes of sweet roasted hazelnut dusted with chocolate. It sounds great, and it is. In Hong Kong you commonly find very heavily fired Tieguanyin which is sweet and toasty. But my kind of Tieguanyin is a balance of fresh flavours and darker notes.But it’s not that simple. These days, nearly all the Tieguanyin oolong tea made in China is very green, hardly oxidised and very lightly fired to make the tea as floral and light as possible. It can be great, but for me lacks the complexity and warmth that makes me want to drink it all day, everyday. I have to really work with producers to break with the current fasion and make this tea tea the way I want it. We go through so many samples where they may either over-fire, under-fire, fire too fast or over too high a heat or most commonly of all, under-oxidise. Our current stock of this tea is good. It’s smooth, soft, complex and satisfying. If you get some, try smelling the dry leaves – breath on them to warm them up and bring out the aroma. For me personally, the current stock’s infusion is a little too green because its not oxidised enough (I’m still drinking it most days though!).
I’m off to China for the whole of April. Tieguanyin will start to be produced from around the 15th of the month and hopefully with some good weather and expertise from the production masters, and some input from me, it’ll be just how I (and hopefully you) like it.