Tieguanyin, also called Hongxin guanyin or Hongyang guanyin: it is not only the name of tea leaf category but also the name of tea tree variety. It was first discovered and popularized in Yaoyang, Xiping, Anxi during Yongzheng reign in Qing Dynasty. Delicate by nature, it is easily subject to adversity and has a low yield. It sprouts around Vernal Equinox and stops growth around Frost Descent, with annual growth period of 7 months. It is said “good to drink but hard to plant”. “Red-bud crooked-tail peach” is one feature of pure-bred Tieguanyin tree and is the top-grade category for oolong tea.
Tieguanyin is the highest grade of oolong tea variety. Its main characteristics include: curled leaves, fat and bold, heavy and even, sand green color and luster, the overall shape similar to dragonfly head, spiral form or frog leg. After brew, liquor color is golden bright like amber, with natural fragrance like orchid, mellow, thick and sweet savor and lasting aftertaste, which is commonly called “YIN-flavor”. Tieguanyin tea enjoys high and lingering aroma, which is reputed to “fragrance stays after seven brews”. Shape: fat bud, round and normal like dragonfly head, heavy, hard twig, undamaged twig top, the majority of leaf curling towards leaf back, black bloom, distinct sand green (red edge is usually eliminated in new techniques)
Core characteristics: heavy dry tea, black green color; noticeable liquor flavor with clear gradation and thickness; infused leaf shall be fat, thick, soft and bright. The appraisal of choice Tieguanyin requires profound knowledge. Famous tea masters and experienced tea farmers in Anxi could verify the quality of tea leaves by observing their shape and smelling their aroma. Experts can determine the specific tea-making place and the age of tea trees from which tea leaves are picked. Some can even tell which tea master made the tea. A layman may judge the quality of tea leaf by “watching the shape, listening to the sound, observing the color, smelling the fragrance and tasting the flavor”.
Watching the shape: High-quality Tieguanyin’s leaves are curled, bold and heavy, shaped like green-abdomen dragonfly head, fresh and smooth in color and luster, obvious sand green, noticeable red spots, leaf surface with hoarfrost.
Listening to the sound: With heavy body, fine tea leaves are tightly bolder than ordinary ones. Put some tea leaves into a teacup and the sound like “dangdang” can be heard. The clearer and more melodious sound indicates better quality tea leaves, while the duller sound shows inferior quality.
Observing the color: Liquor color is golden, clear and brilliant. After brewing, the outspread tea leaves are fat, thick and bright (one feature of Tieguanyin tea leaf is that the back of leaf bends outward), with silk-surface luster, which means superior quality. If the liquor color is dark red, this shows inferior quality. Smelling the fragrance: Top-grade Tieguanyin tea smells refreshing. Take off the lid and smell, its unique fragrance assails the nostrils. Such flavor is lasting and intoxicating. It is reputed as “still having fragrance after seven brews”. Recent domestic and foreign experiments show that the fragrance of Anxi Tieguanyin contains rich substances, and the proportion of fragrance components at middle and low boiling points is remarkably bigger than that of oolong tea made from fresh leaves of other tea tree varieties. No wonder the peculiar aroma of Anxi Tieguanyin is so enchanting. Once the lid of a cup of Tieguanyin tea is opened, the whole room is quickly filled with its fragrance.
Tasting the flavor: Once an old Chinese scholar said, "you first smell fragrance before savoring the sweet tea." When sipping, you feel sweetness and mellowness; then you slowly swallow the tea, and the wonderful taste still lingers. As to the question how to understand the unique “Guanyin-flavor”, no tea farmers or masters can give a satisfactory explanation and maybe later generations might find the answer. This is why Anxi Tieguanyin is so charming. Tieguanyin is originally the name of a tea tree variety, which is suitable for making oolong tea; the oolong tea product made from leaves of such trees is also called Tieguanyin. So-called Tieguanyin tea is the oolong tea made from tea trees of Tieguanyin category. However, in Taiwan, Tieguanyin tea refers to a kind of oolong tea made from a specific Tieguanyin tea preparation method. Therefore, the raw material of Taiwan Tieguanyin tea may be the buds and leaves of Tieguanyin tea trees or may not be the buds and leaves of Tieguanyin tea trees. This is different from Fujian Tieguanyin tea.