First Taste: 2009 Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin

This morning in the warehouse Roy, Grace, and I tried the eagerly anticipated 2009 Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin. Roy is excited about this tea and took his time firing it to bring out all the best qualities of a classic high-fired tie guan yin. It will go on sale as soon as it's packed up and delivered to the teahouses.

Roy brewed it two ways: first in a gaiwan, then "farmer style" in his recently rediscovered yi xing teapot devoted to tie guan yin. This tea has big, heavy leaves (pictured here), so even though he barely covered the bottom of the gaiwan, the leaves weighed out to 6.5 grams. He set the digital kettle to a near-boiling 208 degrees F and steeped for approximately two minutes. This tea is packed with flavor and in order to enjoy it, you don't want to be timid with the leaves, water temperature, or steeping time.

The aroma gave the first clue that this was truly a classic tie guan yin, with its unique balance of fire and florals. You can smell the firing in the damp leaves, but there's none of the overbearing charcoaly or coffee-like harshness of excessive roasting that you find in carelessly fired teas. In the cup the infusion is a clear, bright orange-red color that can only come from the proper amount of oxidation. Inspecting the infused leaves revealed that sure enough, they come close to the classic ratio of 3 parts red (oxidized) to 7 parts green. Roy commented how rare it is to see tie guan yin this color these days; the modern version tends to be much less oxidized, yielding a greenish-yellow brew.

Next Roy brought out his tie guan yin teapot to make the tea in the style you're more likely to be served if you drink it in Anxi. He packed the small pot with at least a half-ounce of leaves (15 grams or so--we didn't weigh them), again infusing with near-boiling water for a couple of minutes. The liquor still had the beautiful orange-red color, but darker. When we removed the teapot lid, the expanding leaves were almost bursting out of the top of the pot. With so many leaves the tea has a bitter edge, but the astringency doesn't overpower and in fact is balanced by the other equally potent flavors that emerge with a strong brew, including delightful florals and a sweetness from sap in the leaves that's caramelized during firing. This tea is vibrant with enticing flavors, but in a totally non-aggressive way so that you feel like you could drink it all day. If you ever do stop drinking it, however, there's a delicious, lingering aftertaste.

We can't wait to share this very special, classic tea and will let you know as soon as it's available in our teahouses.