Prepping my gaiwan, pitcher, and cups, I start some water boiling and open the package of tea in the meantime. The aroma of the dry leaf surprises me a bit. Previous experience with many tie kwan yin (or ti kwan yin or ti guan yin or several other spellings) had attuned me to a typical green, buttery, creamy, smooth nose with these oolongs, but this one is different. I note that the tea smells darker, stronger, and more intense. Reading more of the background of the tea, I find that this particular tie kwan yin, due to the growing climate and soil conditions, tends toward deeper flavors and richness, "balanced by mellow, fruity notes, with a touch of sweetness." Oolongs tend to be complex teas and this one sounds like it will be equally so.
When the water has been boiled, I let it cool for just a couple of minutes, then rinse all of the teaware to pre-heat it. The leaves I have measured into my gaiwan (about a teaspoon and a half) get a brief rinse to start them awakening. Then, I begin the first steep. A minute passes. I pour the tea from gaiwan to pitcher, straining out any small leaf particles (of which there are very few, which is great). The steeped tea is then pour to the tasting cup and the aroma cup. (This cup set will get its own review, soon, as it too is offered by Tea Ave.) The aroma and flavor are very subtle, as the leaves have yet to fully open and release their full flavors. Yet in the flavor, I taste what had surprised me in the dry leaf aroma - those deep, rich notes. Originally, they had reminded me a bit of a roasted oolong, but I realize at first taste that this is not the same. Natural and flavorful, even not quite yet full, the mouth-coating flavors embody a dark, green sweetness. The very faintest hint of bitterness sits on the tongue in the aftertaste, truly not strong enough to distract from body (and perhaps even contributing a bit).
For the second steep, I suspected I was doing something wrong with the aroma cup, so I researched it briefly. Sure enough, what I did not know was that the tea should be pour first from the pitcher (or gaiwan or teapot) to the aroma cup, which should then be poured into the tasting cup, leaving behind the aroma to be directed to the nose from the tall, narrow body. I started the second infusion and let the leaves steep for a minute and a half.
The time past, I pour tea from the gaiwan to the pitcher to the aroma cup. Then, I decant the aroma cup to the tasting cup and nose the aroma cup. Mellow, fruity, and still dark, the smells of the oolong rise. There is a bit of flatness, and I wonder if the leaves have still not achieved their full potential, so I take a sip. Rich and fruity flavors meet my tongue, and a touch of bitterness rests on the tip. One, two, three small cups are consumed quickly, and the pitcher is empty. This oolong is fantastic. The myriad of natural flavors are like a gift, which keeps giving even after it is gone, for the aftertaste, while not overwhelming, lingers.
Heating some more water, I prepare several more infusions of the tie kwan yin. The third infusion steeps for two full minutes. By now, the leaves are wide awake. The brew is darker in color and flavor, but still it is not too strong. The flavors are simply more intense. A fourth infusion for five minutes or so pulls final, deep flavors and aromas from the leaves.
Had I used more tea in my gaiwan and steeped the leaves for shorter periods of time, I might have gotten more intense flavors per steep, but that will be an experiment for another time. This tea tasting, though, exceeded my expectations and opened my eyes to a type of tea - specifically a type of tie kwan yin - that I had not before experienced. On my personal enjoyment scale, I would rate Tea Ave's Tie Kwan Yin a 97/100. The flavors impart nothing but deliciousness. Just based on this taste, Tea Ave is off to a great start.
Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Tea Ave's Tie Kwan Yin Oolong is available from their website, here.
This review was provided in exchange for the tea sample.
Text is copyright 2015, Built from Ink and Tea.