Exhilarating flavour profiles that build with age.
Oolong tea » Southern Fujian » Iron Buddha Teas, ★★★★★
Also known as: 铁观音, Iron Goddess (of Mercy).
Fresh Tieguanyin is very grassy. Its leaves are a luminescent green and brew into a tippy, caffeine-and-nutrient-rich yellow-green broth. Most people don’t drink fresh Tieguanyin because it’s supposedly bad for your stomach, but if you live in China, you can ask your local tea merchant to brew some for you. Sip some and you’ll feel like it’s brushed your mouth with an entire bunch of watercress! (It’s a fun experience, but just taste it—I don’t suggest buying any.)
Six-month-old Tieguanyin tastes just right. It’s grassy, but not overpoweringly so. The leaves are a slightly darker green but still ‘jade-coloured’. The nutrients (including caffeine and catechins, which are very, very abundant in this tea) are still present and the mouthfeel is still complex. After six months, the sharp taste has developed into a smoother, blunter, creamier feel. Like the Taiwan Dong Ding tea I reviewed, Tieguanyin is a perfect choice for drinking at work. I’m drinking it now.
Older Tieguanyin tastes even more oxidised. The dry leaves will have unfurled and will have turned a disappointing brown colour. In my experience, these leaves also turn bitter much more easily than the young ones. As a fan of less-oxidised teas, I like my Tieguanyin while it’s still green.
So don’t buy Tieguanyin that you can’t see (e.g. if it’s boxed then shrink-wrapped in plastic). Invariably, these are the lowest-quality over-oxidised tea leaves packaged into (sometimes very nice) boxes by unscrupulous tea traders. They are the fruit-equivalent of compost. Aged Tieguanyin might be cheap, but it is a total waste of money—I’ve even known it to put novice tea-tasters off oolong teas as a whole. Only drink Tieguanyin with a jade-coloured leaf.
Find a good-quality Tieguanyin and you could drink it daily. But store it properly (cool and airtight but not near food); buy a little at a time (no more than 6 months’ supply); and drink it seasonally (look out for your local tea merchant’s posters that read, “Spring Fujian Teas Coming Soon/Now In Stock!” and buy some). Every tea-lover should have at least a little Tieguanyin in their tea collection. Classic. ★★★★★