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Old Tea, New Tea
For me, Tieguanyin is a good representative of the transitional times in the history of our tea world. It is one of the oldest and most beloved of tea traditions, that Iron Bodhisattva tea, always elegant and refined, with that characteristic ‘yun’ note of long lingering fragrance in the palate. It was also, for hundreds of years, a generally darker and more highly oxidized style of oolong, with a ripe plum flavor that I love. Today however, due to historic sea changes in the tea producing nations in the 20th century, that old style of Tieguanyin has fallen out of favor and replaced with a style mimicking a light floral Taiwan oolong. I love the Taiwan oolongs. I loved the old Tieguanyins. In its attempt to maintain relevance and appeal to the new generation of tea drinkers who are more inclined towards Taiwan style teas, the Tieguanyin producers have gone more and more green, stripping out the oxidized borders of the leaves to create a light yellow cup of tea with a very light body. The trouble is, Tieguanyin refuses to be anything but lightweight. Its thick fleshy leaves are full of nuanced flavors that demand to be elicited and balanced and presented properly. It’s like putting a General in the role of a foot soldier. Or perhaps my imagination and nostalgia has gotten the better of me. In any case, for the last few years, we have asked our good Tieguanyin producers to make us an old style, custom roast called ‘Monkey Picked’, fired by charcoal heat for almost 30 hours, and with the leaves completely intact. The brew is dark, almost like a preserved plum over a BBQ. I went the opposite extreme !