Sunday, 24 July 2011

charms of The Iron Goddess (Tie Guan Yin)

For regular readers of my teablog, I'll have to apologise at the outset. Normally I write about anything but tea. Sure I drag tea into it, but the topics I like most are tangentially related to that hot brown liqueur. I like to write about whatever film I happen to be watching or what I might serve footballers playing in the World Cup Final based upon the quality of each individual's play. You get the idea.

It's a teablog, but I rarely get bogged down in actually reviewing tea. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Robert (@The_Devotea on twitter) has assured me that there's nothing more boring than, 'I took the tea and I submerged it in the water and then I tasted it and it tasted like ______ and then I infused it again...' It might be informative and clearly written, but it's not the most exciting stuff. To each his own, eh?

But sometimes I feel I should just do a traditional review of a tea. It is still a teablog after all. And of course with the introduction I've built up, I'm almost daring myself to make it somehow more interesting than the typical teanote. I might have set myself up with unrealistic expectations in that case.

The tea I want to talk about is Tie Guan Yin (the notorious Iron Goddess). A while back I read someone disparaging comments about how everyone knows the sultry temptress that is the Iron Goddess.

As if this tea was somehow boring due to its popularity. I gave into her seduction when I visited Zhi Tea in Austin when I wrote An oasis on the Eastside.

Alex Zorach made a valid point, in the comments of that post, when he said, 'It seems to be the "default" named Oolong, so there have been a few cases where I tried it and it wasn't the best quality.' He went on to write that finding a good Tie Guan Yin is an entirely different story. I think I know just such an exception. The one I'm talking about is from Upton Tea Imports.

Now according to them, this is a 2nd Grade tea. Their description actually states:

A classic Tie-Guan-Yin, with dark-golden, rolled leaves, producing a flavorful cup with the aroma of sweet raisins complemented with robust earthy tones. The fine flavor lingers on the palate with a toasty, sweet aftertaste. (source: Upton Tea Imports).

I can definitely taste the raisins by the second or third infusion. Although the earthy tones are evident immediately, they somehow get stronger the more times I brew the same tea. In my estimation, that's the sign of a good, sturdy Oolong.

As I've heard so often when people talk about it, the thing to remember when brewing decent Oolong is to use more leaves and less water than you might be accustomed to. And almost as important are the incredibly short brewing times. Really.

Roughly twenty seconds to start. After many infusions, you might increase it to thirty or forty-five. But if you're truly using more leaves and less water, steeping this tea for a long time is only going to result in something bitter. And in my experience, Oolong isn't supposed to be bitter.

If you haven't before been lured in by the Iron Goddess charms, will this review convince you to try her out? No idea. I'd like to think this tea is a perfect introduction to Oolong in general. And might this specifically encourage you to try multiple steepings? That would please me more than you might know. Well, now you know. I just told you.


  1. I like your first photo this photo, I see so many awesome plants...elm...American elm? A it a blackberry? Norway maple...

    Anyway, about this tea, I remember drinking it some time ago! I tried a bunch of oolongs from Upton in the same time-period...and I found that this one was very good, but didn't last through multiple infusions as well as some of the others. I remembered it smelling a lot like peach when brewed...did you notice this at all in the aroma?

  2. Now that you mention it, there was something peachy in there.