Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tie Guan Yin, Modern Green Style, Everyday Tea

Recently, one of my friends gave me a canister of tea that he brought back from China. He told me that he isn't sure exactly what it is, but that he's pretty sure it's a low-end modern-style green Tie Guan Yin. I can barely read any Chinese, but I did not recognize any of the characters on the canister...not tea, not oolong, not Tie Guan Yin...I'm pretty sure this is one of those generic canisters that doesn't contain any useful information about the tea:

Everyday tea?

I am interested in learning about many different facets of tea culture. While I naturally seek out higher-quality teas, teas that offer outstanding value, and teas whose aroma and flavor I most prefer, I also like being exposed to the teas that people most commonly drink. There is a pretty big disconnect between the tea culture in the U.S. and Western Europe, and that in China and other countries in Asia. Most people in the U.S. who are seriously into Chinese and Japanese teas focus on the artisan teas, the best teas to come out of these countries.

I was particularly interested in this tea because, at least from what I've heard from people who have travelled in China, and from Chinese people I've met in America, these modern green-style oolongs are extremely popular nowadays, and much of what people consume would be considered low-quality by connoisseurs. It can be hard to find teas in America that correspond to everyday teas that people would drink in China, as in western countries, the low-end of things is dominated by British-style teas, the standard black breakfast tea. When low-end oolongs are available, they tend to be darker roast, as the American palate is not particularly accustomed to greener oolongs.

Here is a photo of the tea itself, with a nickel for size comparison:

Note the large size of the rolled leaves...although it's not true as a strict rule, higher-quality oolong teas often have more tightly rolled leaves. These leaves are very loosely rolled, more so than any other oolongs in my cabinet right now.

The Review:

The dry leaf, upon opening the canister, has almost no aroma. This is usually a pretty bad sign. What aroma there is is pleasant though: weakly herbaceous and weakly woody.

I brewed the tea using a generous amount of leaf and a long steeping time (5 minutes). I have since experimented with brewing and found that this tea is not particulary picky about brewing temperature, but being mild in aroma, does require longer infusions or generous amounts of leaf to extract good flavor.

The resulting cup is mild in aroma, but more aromatic than the dry leaf, and surprisingly rich in flavor. This tea is more flavorful than aromatic, which is rather unusual among teas, and the flavor was actually very pleasant.

The tea's aroma is mostly herbaceous tones, with a hint of woody qualities. There are tones of celery and fresh leaves. There is no floral aroma, unlike most green oolongs. This tea, brewed on the first infusion, tastes a lot like the later infusions of a higher-quality greener oolong (of any varietal). Often, some greener oolongs, when you steep them multiple times, will eventually lose their floral tones and become more herbaceous, with tones that I like to describe as resembling celery or parsley. This tea is very similar.

The flavor however is richer than these later infusions of other oolongs. It is fairly bitter, and pleasingly so, and with a moderate astringency, but not too much. Not particularly sour, which I like, and not at all sweet.

Could I drink this tea every day?

Actually, yes. It's really not bad. Although the aroma was a bit flat, there was little unpleasant about it, and I found it brewed a flavorful cup. I also liked how I felt after drinking it. I'm not sure how accurately this tea represents the everyday teas consumed in China, but I can definitely see how people would be content drinking this style of tea every day. Compared to low-quality darker oolongs and green teas, I would take this one any day. And it's really not that low-quality, it is still a mostly-whole-leaf tea.

So please tell me...is my impression of this tea and its relationship to everyday teas in China at all accurate, or am I way off here?

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