; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Late 1980s Hunan Tianjian Tao Yuan ;

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Late 1980s Hunan Tianjian Tao Yuan

1980s Hunan Tianjian by Tao Yuan
Over the winter I splurged on tea and accessories because what else is there to do in winter except shop? One of my more questionable purchases is this pricey heicha, late 1980s heicha from Chawangshop. This tea made by Tao Yuan FT originating apparently in Shaanxi has seven types of  tea leaves, all first grade spring leaf. According to the listing, today only three types of leaves are used. Chawangshop states that this is the highest grade heicha they have on offer, and the tea is notable for “perfect storage” and pine smoke incense nose. Well, now how can I resist that? Even though 25g costs $24, which is crazy pricing for heicha. One hopes it lives up to the hype.

Another splurge of the winter is this antique English pearwood tea caddy. I’ve always wanted one of these. Sometimes they are apple-shaped.

Pearwood Tea Caddy with copper key.
This caddy I bought is preserved as an antique, complete with tea gunk lining the inside. Most antique people will tell you never to clean an antique, but if you plan to actually use that antique, you have to clean it. So, I decided to clean mine up today while sipping away at this late 1980s heicha. I’m glad I cleaned it out, because the lining is pure silver with no corrosion, and a cute little copper key emerged from beneath the layers of gunk. I oiled the wood and serviced the brass lock and now everything is working smoothly. You’ll notice the ivory inlay, which is a bit rough, but nicely yellowed with age.

Silver lining cleaned up nicely.
My plan is to store the rest of this heicha in the pearwood caddy. The little box of heicha is about the size of a cigarette pack, and the tea is inside a plastic bag in the box. Unfortunately, the plastic bag opened up somewhat during shipping, and I weighed the bag at 22g, losing 3g of tea altogether in the shipping box. Shipping hazard. The baggie is really packed full, so any punch to the little box is enough to burst it open.

Just a few of the 7g I used.
The box itself has a strong odor of wet storage when I received it, like something in a wet basement. Of course I liked the vintage looking box and aired it out for a couple of weeks, and finally placed it in a sunny window which got rid of the smell. But the wet storage smell is still trapped in the plastic bag within, so my efforts to air this didn’t extend into the tea. Never mind, this is an odor I can work out of the tea on my own. I weighed out 7g to give the tea a try in a Jian Shui teapot.

Rinsing heicha is a tricky business because heicha gives up most of itself in the first few steeps, so a rinse risks wasting the liquor. But wet basement, oy, had to rinse it, even though I think the second rinse did start to show liquor that next time I won’t waste. Here is a photo of my first steeping then.

First steep
Gotta love the color. The first cup tastes all storage, and again heicha has no room to waste on early steeps, the tea will be done before that storage odor goes. Two cups in, and the leaves in the pot smell incredibly minty. I guess this is the “pine smoke incense,” like a mentholated cough drop. Of course the wet storage contributes a little bit to the mint, and alas the mint doesn’t really translate into the cup right now.

What I do get is one surprisingly lively cup of heicha, tasting around the storage. Still some bitterness in the leaf, very astringent, tingling on the tongue. My mouth really dried out after a few cups of this. Qi like a rolling, swirling ball in the middle of my back, very energizing. In fact, I feel better now typing this than I have all day long, after a somewhat dodgy night’s sleep. The tea has a bit of a sour note , which is likely again that wet basement. I feel fairly certain I can air this tea out a bit more and bring forth even more sweetness, now that I’ve ditched the smelly packaging in favor of a tea caddy.

Second steep
So, I have only 15g left of tea now, enough for about two similar sessions, though I might ration out a smaller session and hope for three. The pot still smells so very minty after five steeps, perhaps I should boil the leaf. Why not, when I’m somewhat tea drunk already I always want more.

Steaming pot after the 5 minute boil
The tea requires a full five minutes of boiling. I probably went a bit high on the water amount, using 400 ml for the 7g of leaf. But well worth it, the boiling gives me the best cup of the day in terms of sweetness and less heavy on the storage. As the tea cools, the storage flavor returns, but super hot the cup is sweet, slightly woody with a tinge of mint, cool on the throat and active on the tongue, the way this tea is meant to be.

Tea fogged up my camera.
You can see how much green still remains in the tea leaves. I wouldn’t mind having a few hundred grams of this tea crocked away on a shelf. But the price is certainly too high for large scale hoarding. I’m going to make do with the 15g I have left, let it finish airing and look forward to a treat of it next fall.

Still some green left to go...
Gotta say I agree with the tea listing, this is one rare tea indeed and if you can stomach the price, well worth it to try this tiny leaf heicha from back in the days when tea leaves held a bit more punch. Plan on removing the packaging and airing the tea a good few months! I've tasted it for you, so don't waste your grams trying it straight away, let it air out fully.

I think I can get another good boil off these leaves for a few more cups, I’m at nine total now so maybe 12 total after boiling again. Still very mouth-drying long after drinking. Oh this is good stuff.

This is likely the last heicha I will drink for the season, as we are now heading into warmer summer days. My tastes turn now to cooling teas to combat the summer heat and swelling of my legs and feet, and I look forward to trying some of the new puerh teas out this year. 


  1. Nice article, thank you! I guess that tea would make a better smoke than those Shu cigarettes you had a while ago :D
    And, oh my, that pear caddy its gorgeous and so very British!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read this :)

  2. I have read this one a few times. Just placed an order for cws and they had it in stock this time!

    Its going in a tin for 6-12 months so I will enjoy it next year