Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)


Owes its flavors to oxidation levels between green & black tea.

Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby Renco » May 9th, '10, 11:26

By being confused about ‘which one was that great Tieguanyin I had half an hour ago’ so many times, I hope someone has useful ideas about how to make other divisions of the tieguanyin than just price...
For example we have the different styles already (longshan, qingxiang, flower, milk, honey, benshan, guanyinwang, small leaves, big leaves, etc. etc.), but if you take a look at qingxiang (let’s say clear fragrance), this one has like hundreds of different grades, with all different prices. It all depends on the taste and the place where the leaves are from, so we could opt for Anxi - Xiping - Wu Mountain - Fresh Fragrance - Young Leaves - Grade 1.
You think it's necessary to understand this better?
Any suggestions?
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Re: Diffent grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby ABx » May 9th, '10, 14:55

Grades are really meaningless; there's really no substitute for experience. Just get from places that specialize in oolong, and pay attention to the leaf (both dry and wet). After a while you'll start to see the differences and learn where to get the stuff you like :)
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Re: Diffent grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby Victoria » May 9th, '10, 15:03

I try to stick with Anxi and look for ones with less roasting.
The best ones I've had came from Jing Tea Shop.
But I have to say Adagio's New Masters Collection
is quite awesome.

Price isn't always the best guage, but if you are taking
a shot in the dark, it's usually the way to go.
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Re: Diffent grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby debunix » May 9th, '10, 15:33

Renco wrote:By being confused about ‘which one was that great Tieguanyin I had half an hour ago’ so many times, I hope someone has useful ideas about how to make other divisions of the tieguanyin than just price...
For example we have the different styles already (longshan, qingxiang, flower, milk, honey, benshan, guanyinwang, small leaves, big leaves, etc. etc.), but if you take a look at qingxiang (let’s say clear fragrance), this one has like hundreds of different grades, with all different prices. It all depends on the taste and the place where the leaves are from, so we could opt for Anxi - Xiping - Wu Mountain - Fresh Fragrance - Young Leaves - Grade 1.
You think it's necessary to understand this better?
Any suggestions?


This is the kind of thing I would love to understand better. Tieguanyin, however spelled, is one of my favorite teas, whether light or dark roasted, and I'd love to be able to compare and understand the different nuances. But here in the US suppliers generally carry no more than 2 or 3 different versions at best--a spring, a fall, maybe a dark roast--so we are very limited in what we can get.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby David Duckler » May 10th, '10, 20:50

Great question! I have little good experience buying Tieguanyin in the United States, so I cannot give you names or styles to look for. However, when you actually try Tieguanyin, there is a definite flavor profile to keep in mind and look for. Here is what I've learned so far traveling around China, drinking Tiegunayins of various grades.

There are the lowest rung Tieguanyins, bitter and quite undrinkable, missing most of what would classify them as Iron Goddess of Mercy. We'll skip those descriptions. However, all Tieguanyins should have a great smell (generally floral), and the steeped liquor usually looks the same as well (a light jade green).

Entry level Tieguanyin has a strong (nonspecific) floral aroma, which carries to the flavor, but fades quickly. This "grade" of tea steeps out sweet, but dry (an uncomfortable feeling that builds up in the back of the throat).
The next level has even more of a lilac-type floral taste, with definite sweetness. Also present in this "grade" is a creamy texture in the mouth that for me is one of the defining characteristics of Iron Goddess of Mercy. Over time, however, this level can become lemony (something to be avoided, found even at the highest levels if steeped too long or if the leaves are left to cool for several hours before being re-steeped).
The higher grades of Tieguanyin have a definite taste of orchid (whatever that orchid smell would be if it were a taste). There is also an intense all-encompassing creaminess that fills the mouth, supported by a very robust grassy sweetness (like sweet grass, actually).
At the highest grades, Tieguanyin can be finicky to steep, because this grassiness can edge off towards bitterness (in the same way that Japanese greens sometimes do). The highest grades also become incoceivable in thier pure deliciousness in ways that are difficult to describe (especially because they can vary so much, depending on what farm they come from, whether or not this one came from a farm 20 meters higher than another, etc etc).

Look for something that you can steep at least 8 times, gong fu style. The leaves should be fairly emerald green with minimal twig pieces. Steeped up, the leaves should be whole and strong, and reddish around the edges (from bruising/shaking) but not torn. Look for vacuum-sealed, 6-8 gram individual packets for steeping. Keep it in a very cold, dry place.

Tieguanyin is picked twice a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn. Both spring and autumn tieguanyin can be excellent, but each has their own particular flavor profile within the general guidelines described above. Spring Iron Goddess of Mercy is stronger on the floral notes, and generally sweeter. Autumn steeps up with a more vegetal, hearty/grassy flavor.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby aya_s » May 11th, '10, 00:04

I have only drunk tieguanyin from a few sources, and both times the leaves appear to not be whole, but rather chopped or torn in strips. I have also noticed both times in the (still delicious) flowery fragrance and light flavor that there's a hint of something I can only describe as metallic.

Is this characteristic of the lower grade tiequanyin (I assume that's what I've had?) or all of them?
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby Janine » May 11th, '10, 08:29

You have to consider what kind of roasting level you enjoy.

As Victoria indicated, she prefers a more light roast (more green). For my taste, a good Tieguanyin that is on the green side should be a little buttery and also flowery. Those are the qualities I personally enjoy. It should also be able to be steeped several times and still retain "full" taste qualities, even as some of its flavor components are brewed out.

But one thing that defines Tieguanyin is the roasting level. I personally enjoy a 50% roast that is well-balanced. There are many people with the most refined tastes who want a stronger roast than that. I like the roasting quality to just balance against the greenness of the tea if that makes sense.... and I need to smell and taste the sugar in the cup esp in the aftertaste. The roasting level also makes a difference to the way you brew and what you are looking for. I think Tim once explained to me that roasting level is customized for people who are really serious about brewing this high-roast tea.

Try different ones and enjoy them.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby ABx » May 11th, '10, 13:34

Keep in mind that a lot of the bitterness can be eliminated by simply acclimating the leaf by letting it breathe for a day or so before steeping. Kept in a tin, after opening it 3 or 4 times over the course of days or weeks can also do it. I have several teas that seemed very thin and bitter at first, but once they acclimated they turned out to be some of the best.

Whether it should have stems or not depends on where it's from. In Anxi they focus on single leaves without stems (stems are an indicator of poor quality in Anxi TGY), but in Taiwan they go for the full stem system with two leaves and a bud.

Hand harvested/processed leaf will tend to be more intact and whole, but there are some great machine harvested/processed teas out there.

High mountain TGY will tend to have more sweetness and mouthfeel. They may have more balanced aroma, hui gan, etc., but that's probably going to depend more on the skill of the processing.

I generally don't care for the really green ones, and go for teas with at least 30-40% roast these days. IMO the really green ones don't have the complexity to keep my interest, but they're not as easy to brew well.

I've also found things like the citrus aroma in all manner of rolled wulong, and it can vary by how it's brewed, time of year, and even the state of my own senses. I don't discount any tea on this count, because most of the time it's not something you'll get from the same tea every time. Of course it's always possible, too, that such a quality could be a sign that it's actually something like Fou Shou being passed off as TGY so they can charge more, which is where experience comes in.

I also tend toward the Taiwanese TGY because they tend to be higher mountain with more substantial leaves and it's easier to find a good roast, but then I've had some Anxi that had very robust leaves and expert roasting.

When it comes to Chinese and Taiwanese teas, grades are more by farm and vendor than any sort of objective measure. One farm's lowest grade may well be better than another farm's highest, and the TGY from two different farms may be very different. Farms will often have large batches for mass production and then progressively higher grades using better leaf and more careful processing, but just because one has an expensive and rare "top grade" doesn't mean that they are all that skilled. Likewise a vendor may differentiate between lower grade cheap stuff and higher grade stuff, but that doesn't mean that they're getting the best of what China has to offer; I've had some truly mediocre stuff that was billed as a top-quality TGY by the vendor.

In short, I'd focus less on "grades" than finding what types of processing (including things like roasting) and origin you like. Just get to know the different styles and you'll find what you like. Unfortunately there's really no substitute for experience here.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby Tead Off » May 12th, '10, 05:30

The term 'Wang' used to signify the top grade, meaning King, is not always the best these days. Trial and error, like many posters suggest, seems to be the way. Luckily, I've stumbled into both great green and traditional TGY here in Bangkok with the roasted one being the most delicious I've ever had. And, like others feel, less heavy roasting seems to be preferable, but, the skill of the processor is all important.

What has become a rarity is hand picked, hand processed TGY in any form. If you add organic into the equation, it will become even harder to find.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby gingkoseto » May 12th, '10, 08:58

Tead Off wrote:The term 'Wang' used to signify the top grade, meaning King, is not always the best these days. Trial and error, like many posters suggest, seems to be the way.


That's very true. In fact, many generic TGY packs are labeled "TGY King", because nothing stops people from labeling whatever they want. Even the "King" from real tea contests may not be always valid. A manufacturer told me the only real valid TGY contest (which means you don't need to pay big money to buy your entrance) is the one organized by local Agricultural Bureau (and oddly there isn't a channel to buy or sell the awarded tea from this event). But there are so many other contests that the manufacturer gets invitations almost every few weeks.

Tead Off wrote:What has become a rarity is hand picked, hand processed TGY in any form. If you add organic into the equation, it will become even harder to find.

In Fujian, hand-picked is still common (with razors attached to hands, mimicking scissors). Hand processed TGY is very rare, and many people believe machine works better than hands in most steps of tea processing. Organic is extremely hard to find. Some people told me it's harder to grow organic oolong than organic green (which I don't know why but will be interesting to find out :?: ). Besides, most farmers I know are not interested in growing organic tea, because they believe they already use the most environmental cautious cultivation they can, and it costs too much money to grow organic - some say, unbelievable amount of money if one uses enough organic fertilizer to make the tea as tasteful as normal. This situation may change if some day in the future, organic tea can be rewarded by the market. Also it will helps if there is more research on how to carry out effective and economic organic fertilizing.

Back to the op's original discussion on grades - I think, only when we have enough information about a grading system (whether it's from a vendor or agent) and trust the system, we can trust the grades under this system. For example, the Wu Yu Tai tea house in Beijing, their grading system is stricter than national standards for various teas. Even when people don't like their price, they tend to trust their grades. And about another big vendor (whose name I won't specify), many people say their grades are more correlated to price levels than to quality levels. :mrgreen:
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby chrl42 » May 12th, '10, 09:12

gingko wrote:Some people told me it's harder to grow organic oolong than organic green (which I don't know why but will be interesting to find out


maybe, greens are made from younger leaves? early-mid-April, when bugs aren't many around..just thought

When I talk about organic issue to my tea-selling pal, he always says "drink good and expensive tea" :)
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby TIM » May 12th, '10, 12:27

As a past conversation with Lawrence aka MarshalN in 2006 on Cha Dao forum:

"...."Yin yun 音韻" or "yin wan" (that sounds like a Cantonese pronounciation, perhaps it's also pronounced similarly in Minnan dialect). Literally it means resonance, referring to music/sounds. In this case, it specifically refers to the characteristics aftertaste of a tieguanyin that lingers around your throat that other oolongs do not have. The character yin also refers to the "yin" of tieguanyin, since they are the same character, so there's a bit of a double meaning there. Some people call it the "guanyin yun".

Similarly, rock teas have a "yan yun" 岩韻, at least in Cantonese tea drinking parlance. That refers to that particularly strong aftertaste that coats the back of your tongue for rock teas like a good Dahongpao."

Only High grade Anxi Xiping TGY have this 'Yin Wan' character. Which need a very refine palate to understand. IMO. I am still learning it since 2006. Enjoy ~ T
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby Northerncalifor... » May 24th, '10, 00:07

This thread provides some very good information about TGY. After drinking this tea for more than 20 years and a TGY "addict", I am still learning more about it everyday. Just want to share some of the things I learned when travelling in Anxi.

Re: "Steeped up, the leaves should be whole and strong, and reddish around the edges (from bruising/shaking) but not torn."

Reddish around the edges used to be one of main characters of Tie Guan Yin tea. But it is not necessarily true any more. In order to achieve greener tea liquor, one of good characters of high-quality
light roasted Tie Guan Yin, some tea producers add one more step during tea making process, which will eliminate the reddishness around the edges. So if you see the tea leaf edges are a little bit torn and
there is no reddish edge, it doesn't necessarily mean it is low grade.

Re: "Whether it should have stems or not depends on where it's from. In Anxi they focus on single leaves without stems (stems are an indicator of poor quality in Anxi TGY), but in Taiwan they go for the full stem system with two leaves and a bud."

In Anxi, Tie Guan Yin tea leaves are plucked with two leaves and a bud as well. The reason why high quality Anxi TGY don't have stems is because stems are hand separated from leaves after tea is made. For higher grade TGY, not only stems are separated, but also tea leaves are hand-selected so that tea leaves have similar shape and size. This is for appearance, as well as for ensuring each brewing has more consistent strength and taste. The tea leaf picking is actually one of the main employment sources in Anxi county.

To grade Tie Guan Yin tea, tea masters usually brew two or three grades of TGY using Gaiwan and compare them side-by-side. Smelling the Gaiwan lid is one of the most effective way to judge the TGY quality. The Gaiwan lid has amazing function of concentrating the fragrance so it provides an excellent way to tell which tea has stronger fragrance. Everything else equal, the stronger the fragrance is, the better. I used to drink TGY for long time but still didn't know much about it. Once I started to brew and compare them side-by-side, I learned so much about it.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby wyardley » May 24th, '10, 01:07

northerncalifornia wrote:Reddish around the edges used to be one of main characters of Tie Guan Yin tea. But it is not necessarily true any more.

Maybe not, but IMHO, it should be. It makes me sad to see all these modern style tieguanyins with the red edge torn off. The market demand for less oxidized and less roasted teas is causing a lot of important knowledge / skill to be lost. And really, one of the characteristics of oolong is that it's semi-oxidized. If you want green tea, drink green tea.

Tearing off the red edge also makes the leaves look like crap. What I don't understand is why mainland tieguanyin producers take this step, while low-oxidation Taiwanese oolongs (gaoshan or not) are made in a way that leaves the tea leaf fairly intact.
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Re: Different grades of Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess on Mercy)

Postby gingkoseto » May 24th, '10, 11:13

wyardley wrote:
northerncalifornia wrote:Reddish around the edges used to be one of main characters of Tie Guan Yin tea. But it is not necessarily true any more.

Maybe not, but IMHO, it should be. It makes me sad to see all these modern style tieguanyins with the red edge torn off. The market demand for less oxidized and less roasted teas is causing a lot of important knowledge / skill to be lost. And really, one of the characteristics of oolong is that it's semi-oxidized. If you want green tea, drink green tea.

Tearing off the red edge also makes the leaves look like crap. What I don't understand is why mainland tieguanyin producers take this step, while low-oxidation Taiwanese oolongs (gaoshan or not) are made in a way that leaves the tea leaf fairly intact.


It seems Tie Guan Yin, when going through light oxidation, is more likely to have red edge than Taiwan oolong, and the red edge does affect taste (with astringency) to certain degree.

It's not our say what Tie Guan Yin is better to make, nowadays market rules. The type that sells well will be naturally produced more. But I agree it's sad the minority techniques often tend to extinct.

In my observation, greener oolong is very appealing to many green tea drinkers. So in some sense, modern green TGY contributes to the current popularity of TGY in China, Japan (both countries have been dominated by green tea drinkers) and the rest of the world. But I've also seen many people switch their taste more and more to traditional style and roasted style TGY with time being. Maybe these people eventually will change the market and cause the redemption of traditional style. I think it's actually good to have more diverse style of both TGY and Taiwan oolong. Meantime, if there are at least a few factories that are committed to traditional style, then the technique will not be lost. And if the market favors traditional style again, soon there will be more factories making it.
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