Comparing Tieguanyin Roasted Oolong Teas

Same tea plants, same tea name, different teas!

I previously compared two Tieguanyin oolongs—Modern Green Roast Grade II and Traditional Green Roast—from Life in Teacup, a company specializing in Chinese teas (see post). They kindly provided me with five Tieguanyin teas in all, so today I continued my exploration of Tieguanyin (or Tie Guan Yin; also called Iron Goddess of Mercy).

Although these all fall under the umbrella of Tieguanyin oolongs, the ones that I’m trying here are more oxidized than the Green Roasts, which would be considered green oolongs. In oxidation level, oolongs fall between green and black tea, so you have “green” oolongs and more oxidized oolongs, which will be closer to black tea in character.

trad roasted tieguanyin

For both teas, I brewed a heaping teaspoon in 55–60 ml of 205°F water, beginning with 20-second infusions.

Traditional Roasted Ti Guan Yin

The dark brown to charcoal rolled leaves have a lovely toasty fruity aroma. The first brew was rather too light—but since the leaves barely unfurled, of course the flavor was subtle.

But the second brew, which yielded a light golden brown cup, was so delicious! Satisfying toastiness on a slightly earthy base, and, especially at the top of the palate, a lovely vegetal as in dark leafy greens-type vegetal. Not sweet but not bitter. Complex and lovely.

trad rst tieguanyin lvs

At the third infusion, the aroma had more sweetness to it, and unlike the first two infusions in which I got toasty first, this time that dark leafy greens-vegetal hit first and lingered. Still earthy and toasty, with a very slight astringency. The leaves are ever so slowly opening up, with a few leaves unfurled, but most remaining as loose balls. The leaves are red edged, typical of oolongs.

The toasty vegetal flavor remained strong through the next couple of infusions, and with so many leaves still rolled, clearly I’ll be able to infuse them quite a few more times.

Traditional Charcoal Roast Master Grade Ti Guan Yin

The balled leaves of this oolong are also dark brown to charcoal in color, and are perhaps more uniformly sized. They have a toasty fruity aroma that’s quite wonderful.

trad charcoal rst master grade lvs

The light golden brown cup had a toasty flavor, a bit fruity and a bit dark leafy greens. I increased the steeping time to 28 seconds, and the third brew had a nice toasty aroma and continued that toasty dark leafy greens-vegetal flavor, especially on the palate. As with the other tea, few leaves had fully opened at this stage.

At the end of the fifth infusion, there were still a lot of unfurled leaves, but I felt like I was missing something. This tea seemed rather flat, unlike the clean, full-bodied, and complex flavor of the traditional roasted tieguanyin. Since I had more tea leaves, I tried them western style, a heaping teaspoon per 8 oz 205° water for 3 minutes. The brew was a light golden brown, with a green tinge, although by this time the sun had changed, accounting for some of the color difference.

western brew

I think that the flavor was more well rounded, still toasty, but now with a hint of smokiness and a slight sweetness. The dark leafy greens-vegetal note was far less pronounced.

Herein is the beauty of tea, especially oolongs. You can get vastly different experiences simply by changing the brewing parameters. If you don’t like what you’re getting, or are underwhelmed, try switching it up.

Although both of these oolongs are higher on the oxidation spectrum, both lean toward the green side as far as flavor, at least in my opinion. And despite the charcoal roasting, there’s only a hint of smokiness. Rather, I’d describe both as toasty—and delightful!

both teas

(Traditional Roast on left and Traditional Charcoal Roast Master Grade on right.)

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