Longjuan Tieguanyin Tasting Journal

Tasting the latest from the Liu Family

March 17, 2017

We were lucky enough to be introduced to the Liu Family through He Qingqing in Laoshan. Mrs. Liu was a classmate of Qingqing’s (and Verdant co-founder David’s) at Qingdao University. He family supported her decision to study so far away from their home in Longjuan, Anxi county in Fujian Province. While in Shandong, Mrs. Liu met her husband, and decided to set up a small shop in Jimo – the nearest city to Laoshan – to share her family’s tea.

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There is a kindred spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation between Laoshan and a region like Longjuan. Laoshan and Dragonwell both grow the same varietal of tea, but because Laoshan doesn’t enjoy the same level of fame as the emperor-endorsed Dragonwell, farmers like the He Family are free to try new things and improve on traditional techniques to build a loyal following of their own. Laoshan Black and Laoshan Oolong are both experiments that came out of this drive to innovate.

In Longjuan, the Liu family grows Tieguanyin and other varietals that farmers like the Zhang family cultivate in Daping, Xiping, Gande, and throughout Anxi country. The Liu Family and most of their neighbors focus just on Tieguanyin; tradition and market pressures don’t drive the Liu Family to focus exclusively on traditional techniques, and with so much local competition for the most popular modern green or traditional rolled Tieguanyin, the family instead explores more unusual, bold and original styles to feel out the market and work to build a demand for unique craft. Like in Laoshan, Mrs Liu’s family turns to innovation to craft unique offerings.

By choosing the nearest tea market to Laoshan to set up shop, Mrs. Liu was able to find a people receptive to innovative and unique teas while supporting her family’s work in agriculture. Qingqing introduced us to Mrs. Liu when we set up our own offices with the He Family in a shared space. Mrs. Liu often walks across the way to help Qingqing and Weiwei pack up our weekly fresh shipments of tea, or keeps an eye on Niu Niu and her own son while coming over to chat and sticker bags.

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We were super excited for the chance to share some of the Liu family’s work in our last Tea of the Month Club shipment, including “out there” teas like a buddy Jin jun Mei style black tea made from Tieguanyin varietal leaf, a Xiao Zhong style Tieguanyin black tea, Tieguanyin roasted and processed like Big Red Robe, along with the Liu Family’s classic Longjuan Traditional Tieguanyin.

After such a positive response to the sneak peek offered in the club, we are so happy to be able to make the Liu Family’s tea a part of the permanent collection! They are kind enough to be bringing us out to their fields for interviews and more in just a few weeks. Look out for photos, translations, and more at the end of March!

To kick off the collection, we are releasing the remaining reserve of their Tea of the Month Club offerings, and we can’t wait to follow up in a few weeks with more of whatever their family is most excited to share along with photos, video and stories. Here’s to years of great partnership with new friends!

 

Tieguanyin Xiao Zhong

The inspiration for this tea is Wuyi Xiao Zhong, a traditional and full-bodied black tea from Wuyishan (sometimes smoked with special pine wood).

When we tasted this Tieguanyin – processed as a curled and roasted black tea – we expected a bracing and full bodied tea.  From the aroma and first sips, however, we realized this tea would be quite different from our expectations.

With this Tieguanyin-based black tea, the Liu Family has created a tea that’s smooth, sweet, and rich. Full of chocolate notes, a hint of tart hibiscus, savory sweet potato and honey, this easy-going tea is like a cross between honey-cured burdock and Laoshan Black.

Even with a packed gaiwan and extremely long steep time, this tea has no trace of bitterness or astringency. Instead, the brew remains consistent, mellow and welcoming throughout. The sweet flavor, forgiving nature, and accessible price-point of this experimental tea make this a wonderful brew for sipping every day.

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Tieguanyin Jin Jun Mei

While Tieguanyin Xiao Zhong uses smaller leaves for a traditional black tea, the Liu Family’s Tieguanyin Jin Jun Mei uses large Tieguanyin buds, orange with down, for a unique and particularly uncommon offering.

Only ten pounds of tea were made from the 2016 spring harvest; just one kilogram is available now. We loved having the opportunity to send such an unusual and unexpected tea out in the Liu Family curated Tea of the Month Club boxes.

This tea a rare chance to taste the rich, sweet and savory flavor of bud material in the naturally floral Tieguanyin varietal, and a clear demonstration that farmers like the Liu Family are not tied by tradition to only make what is currently accepted with the varietals they grow.

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Tieguanyin Big Red Robe

This experimental tea uses Tieguanyin leaves to create a tea in the style of Wuyishan’s famous Big Red Robe. Normally, Anxi oolong teas are tightly curled. For this tea, however, the Liu Family uses techniques more common in Wuyi to strip-style roasted oolong. The tea is twisted and given a heavy roast to evoke Big Red Robe.

The fascinating thing about this tea is that, despite a processing style that points to Wuyi, the flavor is still truly Tieguanyin! The pull between fruity, herbaceous Tieguanyin leaves and mineral-heavy roast makes for a dynamic tasting experience.

From the moment the tea begins to brew, a tart pinot noir wine-like aroma (like Medium Roast Rou Gui) primes the palate for a dark plum and roasted burdock flavor and heavy minerality. But these dark flavors are not the end of the story this tea wants to tell. Herbaceous lemon thyme, crisp pear and sweet honey come through in later steepings.

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Longjuan Traditional Tieguanyin

In contrast to the more “out there” offerings from the Liu family, this traditionally finished Tieguanyin gives a sense of the natural flavor of the Longjuan region and of the Liu Family’s tea plants in particular.  Mrs. Liu wanted to make sure her Tea of the Month Club box offered context and contrast for her family’s more unusual, experimental black teas and oolong – this Longjuan Traditional Tieguanyin helps to anchor the collection.

The Liu Family’s Traditional Tieguanyin is packed with roasted grain aromatics, including graham cracker and barley. A crisp, fruity pineapple skin or green apple edge fill out the high notes, while sweeter honey and floral marigold give this tea a more luscious finish.

We’re really excited to share the Liu Family’s traditional tieguanyin alongside Master Zhang’s classic Traditional Tieguanyin from Daping. Tasting the two side by side helps bring home the idea that – beyond the differences that terroir brings to each harvest of tea leaves – it is the choices each farmer and tea master makes in the workshop that determine how each tea will be finished. These aesthetic choices can be informed by tradition and local practices, or they can respond to the weather or environment each season, but at the end of the day, it is the point of view of both tea farmer and tea master we taste in a cup of tea. Every person has their own unique perspective. It is a joy to grow our network of partner farmers, sharing these perspectives with tea lovers around the world.

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One Response to “Longjuan Tieguanyin Tasting Journal”

  1. Odelia Baker

    David, do you have a tutorial on how one would actually take tea tasting notes. I bought a tasting journal, but some choices like tannic, body, and balance are a bit confusing to know how to rate. I understand spicy, sweet, vegetal, aroma, linger/finish etc… Would you be interested in making a short video tutorial for us?

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