In this blog post I'm going to outline:
- what is oolong tea
- what is Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea
- how to make the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea in a gaiwan
- how to make the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea following the traditional Gongfu cha method
What is oolong tea
When the British first managed to steal from the Chinese their tea-making secrets, they were amazed to learn that both black and green tea are made from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis or the tea plant. Until then, the Europeans were convinced that a different plant/tree served for making different teas.
Today's tea lovers know that the world of tea is much more complex than this. In China alone, six types of tea are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis and differ only in the way in which they were prepared.
- white tea - the most tender tea buds undergo very little processing
- green tea - the leaves are withered and heated to prevent oxidation
- red tea (what we refer to as black tea in the West) - after withering the leaves are left to fully oxidize
- yellow tea - prepared in a special way to obtain the yellow colour
- black tea (what we refer to as aged tea in the West) - green tea is left to age in a humid place and undergoes fermentation
- oolong tea - oxidation is stopped at some point and this tea is semi-oxidized, somewhere between green and black
Oolong tea is mainly produced in the Fujian region of China and Taiwan.
What is Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong tea
If you love Chinese tea, it's impossible that you have never heard of Tie Guan Yin or the Iron Goddess of Mercy tea. It's probably one of the most famous oolong teas and one of the most famous teas altogether.
Before the British stole the tea-making secrets from China and flooded the market with cheap black tea from India, Tie Guan Yin was indeed the most popular tea in Europe (although probably not many tea drinkers knew its name.)
In addition to being a tea type, Tie Guan Yin is also the name of the cultivar or the variety of the tea plant from which this tea is being made. The Iron Goddess of Mercy is partially oxidized, like any oolong tea.
This tea is indeed so famous that the French tea guide, Le guide de dégustation de l'Amateur de Thé mentions it twice in its list of the world's top 50 most famous teas: once the classic variety (oxidized at 40%, with the rims of the leaf turned black and the inside staying green) and once the Anxi variety oxidized only at 10%.
During the degustation, the most pertinent notes are floral (I sense jasmin) but you can also discern a milky taste typical of many oolong teas.
How to make the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea in a gaiwan
A gaiwan is a traditional Chinese tool for tea making consisting of three pieces:
- the saucer (representing the earth)
- the cup (representing people)
- the lid (representing heaven)
To prepare the Tie Guan Yin tea in a gaiwan, you should follow the below steps:
- heat up the cup with some hot water
- add a spoon of tea leaves
- cover with hot water (not too hot, 75 degrees Celsius is enough)
- wait for one minute
- drink, either straight from the gaiwan or from another cup
The advantage of this method is that you can watch the beautiful, large oolong tea leaves unfold in front of you.
How to make the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea following the traditional Gongfu cha method
Whereas making your tea in a gaiwan is very easy, the traditional Gongfu cha method requires many utensils, concentration and time.
Making tea this way is a delight in itself as it allows you to slow down and focus on the beauty of the objects around you.
The below tools are necessary:
- kettle with hot water (75 degrees Celsius)
- small clay teapot
The below tools are also very useful:
- the fair cup (gong dao bei) to make sure that the tea in each cup is infused to the same degree
- a wooden tray
- a serving tray for presenting tea leaves
- tongs to transport tea leaves
You should follow the below steps:
- first heat up all the cups and the tea pot
- present the tea leaves to your guests
- put the leaves into the tea pot (one-two spoons)
- cover with hot water
- pour the water away
- cover the leaves again with hot water
- wait for one minute (pour hot water over the tea pot while waiting)
- pour water to your fair cup
- pour water to the cups
Whatever method you choose, enjoy your tea!