Oolong "Tie Guan Yin" or "Ti Kuan Yin / Tieguanyin" (from China Tea Book)

Tieguanyin is one of the famous historical teas in China, originally produced in Anxi County, Fujian Province. Anxi County is a mountainous area with beautiful scenery in the southeastern coastal area of Fujian Province, located in the northwest of Quanzhou City. It lies between 24°50' to 25°26' north latitude and 117°36' to 118°17' east longitude, belonging to the Daiyun Mountains, with the characteristics of a subtropical maritime monsoon climate of southern and central Asia. There are no severe summers or harsh winters, with an average annual temperature of 16°C to 21°C, annual sunshine duration of 1850 to 2000 hours, frost-free period of 260 to 350 days, annual rainfall of 1600 to 1800 millimeters, and an average relative humidity of about 80%. The flowing Lanxi River, the beautiful Fengshan Mountain, and the perennial morning mist and evening haze create a mild climate with abundant rainfall, earning it the reputation of a "natural treasure trove of tea trees."

Anxi has a long history of tea production, dating back to the late Tang Dynasty. At that time, Hanlin Academician Han Ao wrote a poem: "Searching for the elderly in the rocky cliff, the folk sing the tea-harvesting song." During the Five Dynasties, County Magistrate Zhan Dunren was inspired by the elder monk Huicha from Longanyan (now Xiaonei Village in Longmen Township) to create a simplified version: "Pouring milk, floating flowers, filling the cup, lingering fragrance around the teeth, refreshing the mind after sleepless nights, dispelling demons without using weapons." In the Qing Dynasty, there was a record in the "Qingshuiyan Records": "...there are two or three (tea trees) at the ghost empty mouth of Song Zhi, which taste even better and have greater benefits." By the Ming Dynasty, tea production flourished, gaining fame. The "Anxi County Annals" during the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty recorded: "The tea is named after Qingshui and also known as Shengquan." "Tea, produced in Longjuan and Chongxin (now Longjuan, Xiping, and Lutian), is abundant."

In the late 18th century, Anxi tea farmers experienced significant development. The poet Ruan Minxi wrote in the "Anxi Tea Song": "The mountains of Anxi are lush and towering, with dense tea growing in the shade. The local people pick tender leaves diligently, maintaining the prosperity of countless families..."

Subsequently, tea farmers in the region also bred many excellent tea tree varieties, among which Tieguanyin's tea-making quality is the best.

Tieguanyin originated in Yaoyang Village, Xiping, Anxi County. According to legend, a man named Wang Shirang ("Rang" sounds like "Liang" in the local dialect) from Yaoyang Village, Xiping, Anxi County, served as the vice tribute officer in the tenth year of Emperor Yongzheng's reign and the Tongpan of Qi, Hubei Province, in the sixth year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1741). Wang Shirang was fond of flowers and plants and collected them in his "Nanxuan Garden." In the spring of the Bingshen year, he discovered a tea tree in the wasteland under the Guanyin Rock, shining brightly and unusually captivating. He transplanted it to the "Nanxuan Garden" for cultivation. After processing, the tea had a glossy, dark color, dense structure, and an extraordinary fragrance. It was deeply enjoyed and cherished by his family. At that time, Wang happened to be summoned to Beijing and presented this tea as a gift when he visited Fang Wangxi (there is a legend that it was Fang Bao, the Deputy Minister of Rites). Because of its extraordinary aroma and taste, it was regarded as a treasure and presented to the emperor for appreciation. The emperor summoned Wang Shirang and learned about the tea's origin from Nanyan, thus naming it "Nanyan Tieguanyin."

Tieguanyin was originally named after its variety. The main planting soil is sandy soil in mountainous areas, with a pH value of 4.5 to 6. Below 700 meters above sea level, it is mainly red soil, while above 700 meters, it is mainly yellow-red soil and yellow soil. The soil is loose, with deep layers, rich in organic matter, and abundant in mineral nutrients, especially high in manganese, zinc, and molybdenum.

Tieguanyin is a shrub-type variety, belonging to the middle leaf category and late bud type. Tieguanyin trees have a spreading posture, sparse branching, elliptical leaves, thick and brittle texture, dark green glossy surface, gradually tapering leaf tips hanging downward, raised leaf margins, prominent lateral veins, wavy leaf edges facing the back, and thick and blunt sawtooth. The new shoots and leaves are slightly purple. According to the analysis of Tieguanyin fresh leaves by the Anxi County Tea Science Institute, the chemical composition content is as follows: the total amount of tea polyphenols is 21.14%, the amino acid content is 2.22%, and the phenol-amino ratio is 9.52. The total amount of water extract is 36.29%, the total amount of catechins is 149.71 mg/g, including 89.07 mg/g of ester catechins and 60.64 mg/g of non-ester catechins.

Tieguanyin is harvested from late April to early May for spring tea, late June for summer tea, early August for midsummer tea, and early October for autumn tea. When picking fresh leaves, they should be relatively mature, with two to four tender shoots (preferably three tender shoots at bud dormancy) picked, commonly known as "opening surface picking." Depending on the maturity of the tender shoots, "opening surface picking" is divided into large, medium, and small openings, with medium openings being the most favorable for Tieguanyin quality. The best picking time is around noon.

The initial processing characteristics of Tieguanyin include large-scale production using mechanical methods, while household methods use traditional manual methods. The processes are basically similar, involving spreading, withering, cooling (or settling), shaking, frying, rolling, initial roasting, initial shaping, repeated roasting, repeated shaping, and final drying. Withering and Cooling: Spread the picked leaves thinly on a bamboo mat, about 0.5 to 1 kilogram per mat, and expose them to weak sunlight. The duration depends on the intensity of light, with occasional stirring to evenly lose moisture from the withered leaves. For large-scale withering, green cloth is used, with 1 to 1.5 kilograms of leaves spread per square meter. Tieguanyin leaves are thick, with thick veins and high moisture content. The leaves release moisture slowly due to their slightly thicker wax layer, so the withering time should be longer, and the degree of withering should be sufficient. When the leaves lose their gloss, turn dark green, become soft, and droop when held by the tip, it's considered adequate withering. After withering, the greenness fades, and a slight fragrance emerges.

After moderate withering, combine two mats of withered leaves, gently flip and cool them, then move them to the cooling area and let them cool for 30 to 60 minutes. When the withered leaves cool down, the tea-making process begins. Tea-making requires a certain temperature and humidity in the green leaf area, ideally at 21°C to 24°C and 70% to 75% relative humidity. Based on the laws of Tieguanyin tea-making, the number of shakes increases, the settling time lengthens, the thickness of the spread leaves increases, and the fermentation deepens.

"Observing and making tea" is a highly summarized experience in tea making and an indispensable part of forming quality. There are mainly two methods of shaking: manual shaking and mechanical shaking. Manual shaking is performed using a semi-spherical large bamboo sieve called a "hanging sieve," with 5 to 6 kilograms of leaves per batch. It can be hung with a crossbar and suspended with a rope at a suitable height for operation. One person holds the sieve and shakes it up and down, causing the leaves to jump and roll inside the sieve, rubbing against the sieve walls or other leaves, resulting in even damage to the leaf margins.

Mechanical shaking uses an electric rotary drum shaking machine (single or double drums) with a diameter of 80 centimeters and a length of 150 centimeters, capable of holding 30 to 40 kilograms of leaves, and rotating at a speed of 28 to 30 revolutions per minute. There are also variable speed shaking machines with speeds ranging from 6 to 22 revolutions per minute. The speed is adjusted based on the amount of lower leaves and the degree of redness. In judging the tea-making process, when the leaves exhibit abundant red edges, strong floral fragrance, curled tender leaves, and obvious red spots, with a yellow-green leaf color, bright red leaf margins, and green leaf stalks, it indicates the middle of fermentation. At this stage, the tea should be fried immediately to achieve the best quality, which is considered appropriate fermentation, requiring timely frying.

Frying: The principle of frying is high temperature for a short time, mostly suffocation and less ventilation, to fully roast and cook the leaves and create conditions for rolling and shaping. During frying, the speed and amount of leaves added should be even to prevent insufficient or excessive frying. When the leaves turn dark green, become wrinkled, and feel sticky when held in the hand, it indicates appropriate frying. The frying time is approximately 2 minutes.

Rolling, Shaping, and Roasting: After initial rolling, initial roasting, and initial shaping, the leaves are fully roasted and rolled in the alternating process of roasting and shaping to complete the non-enzymatic oxidation process of the contents. During roasting, the moisture content of the tea leaves gradually decreases, and with the strengthening of shaping, Tieguanyin's unique appearance and internal quality are gradually formed. The final shaping is achieved through repeated roasting and shaping. The last round of shaping tightly binds the leaves, fixing the tightly curled appearance, commonly known as "shaping." Besides shaping, repeated shaping also plays an important role in the development of Tieguanyin's aroma, taste, and color.

Drying is done with low-temperature slow roasting. When the tea aroma is pure, the floral fragrance is rich, the tea color is glossy, it's considered fully dried and roasted, ready for packaging and storage after cooling. The finished tea has a tight and heavy appearance, a sandy green and glossy color, a rich and fragrant aroma, a mellow and fresh taste, a bright golden soup color, leaving a lingering fragrance in the mouth, refreshing and moisturizing, with a unique style of fragrance, commonly known as "Guanyin rhyme." According to aroma analysis results, most of the substances have a fresh floral aroma, including mainly nerol, cis-jasmone, jasmone ketone, B-ionone, benzyl cyanide, benzyl alcohol, 2-phenylethanol, phane, acetate, benzaldehyde, lignol, and its oxides, benzoic acid, (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate, indole, etc.

Anxi Tieguanyin is a famous historical tea in China. In 1916, 1945, and 1950, Tieguanyin participated in tea competitions in Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand, winning gold medals. In 1982, it was rated as a national high-quality tea by the Ministry of Commerce, and Fengshan Brand Special Grade Tieguanyin won the National Gold Quality Medal. In 1986, Xin Ya Brand Tieguanyin was rated as one of the world's top ten famous teas at the International Tea Competition held in Paris, France, and won the Golden Leaf Award. In 1995, Anxi County was awarded the title of "Hometown of Chinese Oolong Tea (Famous Tea)" by the Ministry of Agriculture and the China Agricultural Society. Tieguanyin products are marked with codes such as K100, K101, K102, K103, K104, etc., and exported to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, and other regions. Anxi Tieguanyin was included in the geographical indication protection in 2002, belonging to geographical indication products.

In recent years, Anxi County has actively organized oolong tea selection activities to promote the improvement of oolong tea quality and increase economic benefits. The Tieguanyin Tea King Competition has attracted much attention in promoting Chinese tea culture.

(Source: China Tea Book. Author: Guo Yaling, Zhuang Ren)

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