Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Tie Guan Yin

A Tie Guan Yin Flight from Taiwan

Tie Guan Yin is one of the most interesting takes on oolong ever developed. Despite its ancient-sounding name—invoking the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Guan Yin— the “Iron Goddess of Mercy” only dates back to the 19th century. Hailing from Anxi county, in Fujian province, China, this complicated style of oolong originally began its life as a medium-roast, “strip leaf”-shaped incarnation; similar to Wuyi Mountain yanchas, or Phoenix Mountain Dan Congs—only nowhere near as dark. That changed around the turn of the 20th century when the processing techniques grew even more labyrinthine.

Image mooched from Wikipedia.

Contrary to popular belief, though, Tie Guan Yin didn’t start out as a processing style of oolong. Rather, the style was inspired by a slow-growing, low-yielding cultivar of the same name.

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The Great Guan Yin Duel

Over the years, I’ve had some fun at the expense of Guan Yin—the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

guan-yin

Whether portraying her as having an illicit affair with Scottish botanists, or depicting her as a scorned goddess seeking vengeance against the writer of the illicit affair (me), I can’t say I’ve dealt with her fairly. Hilariously, yes . . . but not fairly. However, there is one area where her namesake is applied where I have held back my more idiot tendencies. That, of course, is in regard to the tea bearing her name—Tie Guan Yin, or “Iron Goddess of Mercy”.

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Cheating at Tea-Totaling

Cheating at Tea-Totaling – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 1

In December of last year, I gave up drinking. The reason? A missing hubcap.

poor car

I hit a curb while driving a wee bit sauced. No idea where said hubcap went. My theory’s Narnia.

My poor car was the impetus for what (originally) began as a year-long dry-spell experiment. However, in the ensuing six months, life turned out . . . rather awesome. Not sure what happened, and I’m not sure I owe it to sobriety or something else. Life kinda kicked ass. That and having that extra money in my khaki pants was rather nice.

I will confess, though, that I have been cheating a bit. I’ll explain . . .

In November of last year, I did a DIY experiment – aging black tea in a bourbon barrel. I pulled the stuff out after week, declared it “almost” a success, and did it a second time for much longer. That one wasn’t as much of a success. However, my trials and errors caught the attention of this smiling mad scientist – one TJ Williams, one-half of The Tea Kings.

TJ Williams

“I have a lab.” *evil cackle*

February of this year rolled around, and I looked at his company’s website and saw – in bold letters: Cask Aged Dian Hong”. They had aged a bunch of Yunnan black tea leaves in a 1-liter micro-barrel for a period of time. Said micro-barrel had previously housed . . . Appleton Estates spiced rum.

I messaged him about it, “Spiced rum barrel-aged Dian Hong?! Whaaaaaaaaa?!”

He confirmed it, rather proudly. I mentioned in passing that I had done something similar with a bourbon micro-barrel. He responded with, “T’was my inspiration.”

This marks the third time one of my weird blogs had let to a vendor’s future experiments. Shortly after that dialogue, I received both the Cask Aged Dian Hong, and another one – a bourbon barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin. The latter had been aged in a micro-barrel for two weeks, the barrel once being home to Johnny Walker Red.

(Bloggers Note: No alcohol is imparted on tea leaves. Just the scent of what was in the barrel. I swear.)

before brewing

The Tie Guan Yin Red Label leaves looked like many other mid-oxidized, ball-fisted oolongs of its type, but the smell was definitely altered by the bourbon barrel-ing. Along with the usual butter-flower aroma was a presence of peat on the after-whiff. Not strong, but definitely there; adding a dimension of delicious wrong-doing.

The Casked Dian Hong was a surprise and a half. The leaves were smaller-cut than the usual Yunnan black teas I ran into – leaf pieces ranging from brown to gold. What stood out, though, was the smell. Holy booze-gods, the moment I opened the can, straight rum pummeled my nostrils. Not as strong as the alcohol itself, but definitely as sweet and creamy. And that was only after a week of barrel-aging.

For the oolong, I went with a gongfu (or rather, gongfoolish) approach, but with the Dian Hong, I did the usual western-style brew. Both were brewed with boiling water. It was early morning, and I wanted to bleed whatever essence I could out of them.

After three successive infusions – at around thirty-to-forty-five seconds each – the barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin brewed light green with a subtle, herbal aroma.

Tie Guan Yin

No liquor note on the whiff to speak of. It wasn’t until I sipped each one that I witnessed the barrel contribution. Funnily enough, the oolong began with the subtle, liquor-scented note before transitioning to the usual Tie Guan Yin bells-‘n-whistles of butter and minerals.

As for the Casked Dian Hong . . .

Gaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Before this, I’d only had one other rum barrel-aged tea. I don’t know what it is about rum, or even traces of rum, but the notes compliment well with tea’s natural, oxidized profile. Yunnan Dian Hongs tend to be on the earthier side anyway with trace sweetness layered throughout (in my experience). It seems only natural that those notes would play well with a malty, sweet, chewy . . . pirate-y rum.

Casked Dian Hong

To make a long description short(er), the rum and black tea paired perfectly here. The intro taste was like that of a liquor-filled chocolate, while the rest was like burnt oakwood-smoked ‘s’mores. Soooo much sweetness, sooooo much awesome. I could find something more sophisticated here, but I don’ wanna.

After brewing

Interesting sidenote: In future brewing sessions with both of these, the longer I steeped them for, the more pronounced the liquor note. It was like the scenting process was born to make love to tea tannins. Or something.

Epilogue

Many months later, I encountered TJ at World Tea Expo 2015. He passed along another rendition of their Cask Aged Dian Hong, but this time it’d aged in the barrel for two weeks rather than one. I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of both versions. The results? (Beyond this cheesy tea haiku.)

side-by-side-rum - TeakuTuesday

The longer-aged stuff tasted the same as the shorter, but with more of the spice and oak imparted due to the longer wait-time. I could drink it all day. Both of them. At the same time. Double-fisting.

If this is cheating at sobriety, then screw the rules.

Smoked Tea with Friends

Days like this are frustrating. One casually glances around at different tea vendors, and then…it happens. There is a particular tea that catches the eye and doesn’t let the gaze turn away.

That was my reaction to Norbu Tea’s Jin Xuan Xiao Zhong. (Try saying that name three times fast.) The extensive bio said everything I wanted in a tea. From Taiwan? Check. Jin Xuan cultivar? Check. Smoked over sugarcane? Wait…what?!

Yes, this was a sugarcane-smoked black tea from Taiwan, utilizing the Jin Xuan cultivar of tea plant. Said cultivated variety is usually used for oolongs of the same name, particularly Taiwan’s answer to Quanzhou Milk Oolong. I hadn’t had a black tea made from the cultivar, let alone a smoked black from it. My tiny brain knew about pinewood smoked black teas (the typical Lapsang Souchongs), oak-smoked oolongs, and cinnamon-smoked teas, but this was new and unique. And as all three of you readers know, I like “new and unique”. It’s kinda my thing.

I picked some up a week later. Got to brewing that night. This was one subtle and resilient S.O.B of a tea. Like a ninja mime that was accidentally lit on fire. It was smoky yet sweet, floral yet malty – all juxtaposition, but with a bit of a bite. That and it lasted three solid Western infusions.

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Norbu’s Greg Glancy, however, passed on an interesting tip: I should try it gongfu-style and compare. That seemed like a worthy enough approach, but then an odd thought hit me. I didn’t want to do this alone. This required spectators and additional commentary.

I put out an invite to friend’s PDX Tea’s David and Blackstone Hermitage’s Danica. The former was always worthwhile company for trying weird teas, the latter was a staunch Lapsang Souchong fan. Perfect chorus for a cupping session.

David-Danica-1

The first phase of the “plan” was to pick up David before said session. Danica agreed to host us at The Blackstone Hermitage, David’s duty was brewing equipment, and I…well…brought the tea. I arrived early on David’s side of town and had roughly an hour to kill.

While wandering the block, I spotted a brewery accidentally. Yes, I had not intended on that. Stop looking at me like that! To make time go by faster, I tried a few of Base Camp Brewing’s samplers. One of which was a stout…with a marshmallow in it. No wonder they dubbed it “S’more”. And the odd combination worked entirely too well.

Basecamp Marshmallow

That successfully annihilated the time, and I headed back over to David’s block. First, I went back to my car to check on the teas, update various social networks about the weird stout I just had, and so on. Then I closed the door…with my keys in the car.

I walked over to David’s and explained the situation. We went to my car, and I proceeded to call locksmiths and different outlets provided by my insurance company. All the while, two homeless people kept commenting about how much they wanted my shoes.

Note to homeless people: Don’t do that. It’s creepy.

At one point, David and I even tried to beg a AAA office to throw me a bone. They weren’t having any of it, though. Apparently, we tea men look threatening, or something.

Eventually, I got a hold of my insurance’s roadside assistance hotline. (Dunno why it took me so long.) And we headed off to the Blackstone Hermitage.

Danica greeted us when we arrived, supplied me with a parking pass, and we headed in. First thing I marveled at was how clean her place was. It made me wonder why I couldn’t keep a room so in order for more than a day. I have a problem, I guess. But back to tea…

IMAG1190

I don’t remember exactly how many infusions we did, but the Jin Xuan Xiao Zhong lasted us a good two hours. Dave kept the hot water coming, and the leaves held up each and every time. Smoky sweetness didn’t let up until the last three infusions or so, remaining steady throughout. While I preferred doing it the Western way (for strength’s sake), this was a close second, if only for resilience alone.

In addition to the Jin Xuan Xiao Xhong, I also brought two aged oolongs that Norbu Tea had provided me. One was a 1983 Tie Guan Yin Greg used to carry, the other – one we went with – was a Baozhong of indeterminate age. Greg even said as much on the bag:

David-Danica-5

(Personal stash – not a website tea.)

Late-70s (?) – Early 90s (No way to tell) Baozhong

They told me 1970s, and an expert in Taipei said maybe late 80s to early 90s. Who cares? It tastes good. 🙂

To measure that tea in taster notes would be unfairly futile. There are no words for how wonderful it was. I can only sum it up with Danica’s reaction: It made her cry. Tears of joy, of course.

Good and tea drunk, we called it a night with promises of future tastings. That has yet to happen, but it’s kind of comforting knowing that you can count upon tea friends for impromptu tea tastings for the sake of “science”. Unique smoked teas, aged oolongs and friends.

There were far worse ways to spend a Friday. I could’ve been locked out of my car with a marshmallow-dolloped, smoked teabeer in my hand. Wait. That sounds awesome.

David-Danica-2

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