; Cwyn's Death By Tea: A Tin of Tieguanyin ;

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Tin of Tieguanyin

Everyone needs an oolong. Especially sheng drinkers, something to balance out all that yin and gut-wrenching bitterness. Sure, we have shou, but even a dedicated shou drinker needs a change. But oolong tea just isn't all that exciting, even in top form it doesn't have that...shuzz. None of that monkey picked, fresh from the emperor's tribute table excitement. A bit lacking in the musty dusty, dirt packed, twig infested mold we love so much in puerh. Oolong ends up as the tea pulled out of the cupboard for the people who don't drink puerh, the "We must serve them Something" kind of tea. No wonder oolong ends up on the bottom of every restaurant menu, even the foodies don't waste their energy trying to find a decent one to serve with the sushi.

Now, I recognize I'm reflecting here the typical western opinion, because I'm under no illusions whatsoever that outside of China or Taiwan I can expect to find decent oolong unless I know someone who knows someone who got it from someone else lucky enough to have traveled. Because of this, I cannot be expected to identify anything aside from mediocre oolong. Unless, again, I know someone who knows someone. In fact, the few rather okay oolong teas I've had are from someone who knows someone, and those people are even more secretive about their tea pimps than the puerh junkies.

So I'm on my own here. My decades tasting oolong tea left me with a strong distaste for electric roasting and I usually don't believe the tea will actually BE charcoal roasted unless I'm getting the tea from someone who got it someplace else. And then we have the common practice of undisclosed re-roasting. In fact I'd rather not taste much of the roast at all, at this juncture. The other problem I have with oolong tea is the cotton mouth astringency enhanced by my medications, for some reason oolong tea dries the mouth out worse than any other kind of tea. Nevertheless, I find myself thirsting for that tea to balance out my sheng habit, rather like my dad who balanced his boozing with buttermilk and saltines.

My Tin of Tieguanyin is more of a dump than a stash. I order samples of dark Anxi roasted Tieguanyin from wherever, open and sniff, maybe I'll try it or maybe not, and then dump it in the tin. At this point I'm not even entirely sure how many samples are in the tin. I remember one I dumped in came in a vacuum packed foil bag and smelled like paint thinner. Yikes. Into the tin it went, untasted. Several others smelled okay, but not enough to entice me to try them. Threw those in too.

I can remember the source of at least three in the tin. One is from Simple Loose Leaf tea, another from Whispering Pines, and one from American Tea Room. I think I tried the American Tea Room once, wanted to love it because even with ignoring the fact that American Tea Room is located in Beverly Hills, California, the prices from this company are actually on the low end for most of their teas. They seem to have tea coupons nearly every day. I got their Tieguanyin as a sample when I ordered their Sencha Ashikubo hoping it would compare with the same from Camellia Sinensis at a third of the price (it didn't). The "Tie Kwan Yin" from Beverly Hills smelled oddly of scented bath salts. Yes.

Every few months I open the tin and give it a sniff. Still smells like a toolshed. Somehow I want the tea to smell muted, dried out and dead so I can stand to drink it, but instead it smells all too lively. I can feel the cotton mouth coming on and shut the lid quick before oolong ghosts enter my body and refuse to leave. My Tin of Tieguanyin is where oolong goes to die. Or ferment. Or whatever it is doing in there. But just for you, brave readers, I'll brew up something from this thing and see how it's getting along. This is a case where the tea probably looks better than it really is.

Hm. The tea really looks greener than in real life.
I can only be glad I'm not in China over the New Year, when perhaps some of you get Oolong gift boxes. This is a situation where the "thought" is probably all that counts and the real question is not, "is this tea any good?" but rather "where will I put this?" all the while hoping the gift-ee doesn't show up for tea. Maybe in this case people simply label the gifts with the name and prop them up on a specially-designed tea display when the person visits. Despite all logic to the contrary, a gift of tea to the tea addict is an occasion for fear and trepidation. With all our efforts at quelling our obsessive-compulsive ritualistic behavior and hoarding, there is nothing like a gift tea to overwhelm us with a full force body slam of symptoms ranging from large-scale awareness of our already oversized stash, the fear of what to do with it all, and the nagging sensation "I know I'm gonna hate this and can't throw it out no matter what" new addition to the Stash.

Back to the Tieguanyin. One rinse because two ain't gonna help it any, and I'm well past childbearing. Actually it's not that bad. I expected more paint thinner and less fruit, so it makes the category of "in the Concentration Camp I'd definitely drink this."

First steep.
You can see that from only one steeping the leaves have already defined themselves. All of the samples in here carried the label "dark" or "heavy" roast, or else they didn't make it into the Tin of Tieguanyin. Yet we can now see the tea with its pants down, which of these are really not all that heavily roasted, the many green leaves in here. Some are very dark, old and twisted looking (rather like oneself) and I'm guessing these are going to be the long steeping sort (again, rather like oneself) whereas the young green things have given it all up at the get-go (rather not like oneself). An hour later the dry mouth is in full force. The fruit is a banana and not a peach. Oh well.

I have another sample to dump into the tin, which is why I got out this tin today. Back it goes on the shelf for a few more months. I have at least a pound of tea here. The tin, by the way, is stainless steel. Not a very good quality but perfect for the Mausoleum. Yes, I plan to take it with me.

Requiescat in Pace.


  1. First steep? Interesting

    "a gift of tea to the tea addict is an occasion for fear and trepidation"


    1. I managed to drink one steep and had horrible dry mouth for two hours. I love the taste, I'm going for Death by Tea and instead managing Death by Dry Mouth.