Monday, September 12, 2016

Tie Luo Han from Cindy Chen (a classic Wuyi Yancha type)

I'm about to get some nice new teas from Cindy, which inspired me to go through some older stock of samples I didn't get around to trying, in this case a Tie Luo Han, another Wuyi Yancha type.  In part I'd like to re-calibrate back to accustomed to the type, and also just to get started a little early, especially after recently trying interesting locally sourced Wuyi Yancha (a Shi Li Xiang from the Jip Eu Chinatown shop).

In the past I'd mentioned Cindy's Facebook page as a contact, but more recently she's taken up tea blogging, here.  Both places have much nicer tea pictures than any tea blog or reference I've ever seen, covering finished teas, plants and terrain, and processing steps.  She still posts shots on Facebook but Spring is a busy time for her to be working on blog posts; lots of tea processing and tea shipping to be done.

The tea looks like a well roasted Wuyi Yancha, a bit dark, with a slightly unusual flatness to the coloring.  That might relate to it not being completely scorched as some Wuyi Yancha versions are (not so much hers, but they're normally not light-roasted either).  The dry tea scent is in the normal range, some roasting char but not lots, with lots of sweetness, and earth and mineral tones.

The tea has a nice nutty element to it, in addition to all the other standard range (sweetness, char, dark wood, mineral, etc.).  It's so pronounced that it comes across as almond, versus some other kind of nut.  That taste aspect could just as easily be interpreted as something else, of course, maybe roasted bamboo or the like.

Different Wuyi Yancha have different degrees of an aromatic component to them and this one is pretty far up the scale.  The related element comes across as slightly floral, but really more in the way that perfume does, between perfume and an alcohol based distillation of floral essence.

Just a couple short infusions in the taste shifts towards floral more from the almond aspect, still rich and full with tons of complexity, with a full feel (in a different sense than light oolongs), and with plenty of taste remaining well after you actually drink the tea.  The char effect is minimal; it's not a heavily roasted tea to the extent that takes over, but it is well roasted, in a medium range.  It's hard to fully appreciate but one thing that really makes such a tea work is how clean the flavors are, with nothing negative joining in, and a brightness that goes along with the fullness.  You could spend your life browsing Chinatown shops and years picking online vendors at random and never run across a tea like this, although with enough tries sheer luck could bring it to cross your path.

nice color range; of course some would strain the tea

After one more infusion the sweetness somehow seems to really pick up.  This seems to have transitioned a bit towards fruit, maybe in the range of tangerine, although it's still really primarily floral.  There is a lot of mineral undertone to it but it serves as an underlying background context, not the forefront role that such flavors play in some Wuyi Yancha, along with dark wood / leather tones.  On the first infusion I thought "nice, another typical Wuyi Yancha, lots like the others," but it turns out that wasn't really accurate.  The scent in the empty cup indicates a nice cocoa aspect, not the dry, earthy cocoa that works well in mid-range rolled-ball oolongs, more in a Taiwanese style, but a sweet, fresh scent that must be more like a fresh, lightly roasted cocoa bean might express (not that I've ever tried those).

The tea does well for brewing a number of nice infusions, but around a half dozen in I noticed I would need to ramp up infusion time to keep the flavor intensity up, which had been coming across well even brewed quite lightly.  Without astringency as a factor this tea could be prepared at different strengths but it would seem best to me to acclimate to drinking it on the lighter side, to better pick up the flavors, even though that intuitively could seem backwards to some.  For people that drink a good bit of Wuyi Yancha that would just mean brewing it to a normal strength, I'd think, but I like to think a broad audience might read what I write (and you're welcome to add a comment and give input on that).

Just as with any tea going a little longer on infusions will change the flavor profile drawn out of the tea (maybe not lighter oolongs so much; those can be consistent, but the blacks I've been drinking lately can shift some in aspects balance, not change what's there but change the proportion of elements).  The roast comes across more with a slightly longer infusion; finally it does resemble that char a bit in other Wuyi Yanchas.  The tea has plenty more to offer but the best of that really nice almond / floral / tangerine transition is likely behind it.  Of course the almond never really did drop out, still there, still a nice aspect balancing against increasing earthy tones, more of that dark wood that had been so subtle.  The flavors are still really clean and bright, absolutely nothing like a mid-range Wuyi Yancha where a touch of aged cardboard or balsa wood mixes in, or maybe even "old catcher's mitt," flavors aspects that may or may not seem "off" but wouldn't be as positive as this tea's range.

Even thinning a bit the tea is a joy to drink.  I can describe it component by component, as flavors, and brightness, cleanness, full feel, whatever else, but the experience itself is something else.  If I think "cocoa" while tasting it, based on that aroma aspect, that is another interpretation of the earthier components I'd been describing differently, and that might be making a lot of the difference that I'm struggling with describing.

not scorched, not light green, medium

Around ten or a dozen infusions in the tea is still going strong, with the amazing balance of aspects shifting back to mostly almond more as the floral tones subside.  This is the kind of tea one would greedily keep brewing longer and longer, not wanting it to end.  So late in the process it needs infusion times over a minute--starting with a pretty high proportion of tea to water though; not everyone prepares teas like that--and it could go a few more at really extended times.

The aspects never really seem to drift to any "off" range, even nearly played out like that.  It's a good sign for a higher quality tea, not that I needed any more confirmation of where it stands at this point.  This tea is just fantastic, in my opinion, although I guess there's always the potential for someone to be on a different page, preference wise, maybe a green tea drinker.

Tea type research:

I've been getting away from it, but earlier in this blog I would research new tea types, both to share and to retain information about them in posts.  I don't think I've tried this type of Wuyi Yancha before, and I've certainly not written about it, so here goes.

According to Wikipedia, this is a classic Wuyi Yancha type (not that most of them don't seem to be, in some sense): of the Four Great Oolongs and a light Wuyi tea. Tieluohan, all but unknown abroad,[citation needed] is the cultivar responsible for one of the four best known yan cha, "rock teas" grown on cliffs in the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian Province, China. Legend tells that this tea was created by a powerful warrior monk with golden-bronze skin, hence the name Tieluohan, which means "Iron Warrior Monk".

The color of the leaf is an intense green and the resulting tea is of a lighter color. The taste of the tea should be full-bodied and supple, with gentle floral notes and the traditional long-lasting finish.

Nice!  That typical taste profile doesn't mean much (floral, long finish, could be most teas, and color of leaf and the brewed tea depend on processing steps), but making some list and "Iron Warrior Monk" is a good start.  Another vendor, Tea Spring, adds some more related details:

Tie Luo Han is one of the Famous Five Wuyi Rock Teas and also believed to be the earliest Wu Yi tea; with history records dating back to Song Dynasty. The tea bush was first found in a cave (Gui Dong or Ghost Cave) in Hui Yuan Yan, one of the ninety-nine cliffs of Mount Wu Yi. Legend tells that this tea was created by a powerful warrior monk with golden-bronze skin, hence the name Tie Luo Han, which means "Iron Warrior Monk".

So it goes with those lists, five instead of four here, with a mention of a cave where it was first found added.  Seven Cups (vendor) adds a couple details on the legend and timeline, and more on processing, but still no word on flavor aspects:

Tie Luo Han bushes first became popular in making green tea during the Song Dynasty and later as the first of the four famous rock wulongs to become popular in the 17th century.

One of my favorite blogs, Steep Stories, reviewed the Seven Cups version as follows:

...the same tart introduction that the Ba Xian had.  It’s like someone used a Dan Cong oolong cultivar for both that tea and this. But that quickly gave way to sweetness in the middle that faintly reminded me of Mexican fried ice cream. Toward the end, it trailed off into flowers-‘n- forest-fire territory.  Further infusions went from raisins to more charcoal-roasty, along with earthier notes.

Nice!  Tartness, sweetness, floral, a touch of char effect, raisin; lots of complexity in an interesting range.  Of course any reference to flavor aspects would vary by version, related to plant growing conditions (the location, the weather), and to processing inputs, so even if there was a typical flavors profile that might not mean much.  Here is another actual description from an obsolete tea blog, the Tea Nerd blog, another interesting subject, voices from the past talking about teas:

The aroma is lovely; mostly chocolate, with a touch of raspberry. The flavor is very similar. Like a lot of Teacuppa's yancha, this is not highly roasted, so there is very little charcoal flavor unless it is brewed with a heavy hand.

The version I tried was absolutely nothing like that, but then this wasn't even presented as a standard profile, and the vendor's description (versus the bloggers) was said to reference floral aspects and a full body, which describes lots of teas.

You would think that general references of the type would turn up, in some tea-themed reference site, but the closest paging through a Google search gets is a Tea DB blog reference to Wuyi Yancha in general, on page 7 of search results for the tea name:

Tie Luo Han (Iron Monk Warrior) is the next most common of the famous bushes [their list includes four, starting with Da Hong Pao]. It is still far more difficult to find than Da Hong Pao in the western world but is also an extremely famous tea in China. It is characterized by a lighter-roast, thicker body, and a rich floral taste.

So maybe what I'm picking up as almond isn't typical, or maybe this mid-level roast isn't standard either.  I've not had lots of exposure to lighter roasted Wuyi Yancha, and the few that I've had were nice, so it will be good to get back to that range at some point.  I reviewed a Shui Jin Gui from a Chinatown shop a year back that was roasted a little lighter (at Double Dogs tea room, reviewed here), and per that Tea DB site that Wuyi Yancha type is typically fruitier than others and prepared as "less oxidized," which makes one wonder about the typical level of roast as well, a different factor.

At any rate this version of a Tie Luo Han was just great, so whatever Cindy's family was doing related to processing they might want to just keep on doing.

No comments:

Post a Comment