Tieguanyin oolong tea originates in Anxi county of central Fujian province. Tieguanyin refers to the type of tea plant as well as the finished tea. The tieguanyin tea tree has loosely hanging branches and produces thick, dark green leaves. The tea leaves are slightly folded which give them the appearance of hands held in meditation.
This special shape of tieguanyin tea leaves reminded people of the folded hands of the Buddhist priestess Guan-Yin. The heavy dark green color is reminiscent of iron (tie), and so the tea came to be called "tie-guan-yin" tea.
Tieguanyin tea is a semi-oxidized tea which classifies it as an oolong tea. Oxidation is the natural chemical process which leaves undergo after they have been picked. Oxidation causes leaves to turn dark, so black tea is a fully-oxidized tea and green tea is an un-oxidized tea.
After picking, tieguanyin tea leaves are first wilted in the sun and then heated to halt the oxidation. The tea leaves are then rolled and heated repeatedly until the final firing which evaporates the remaining moisture. This moisture will condense on the surface of the leaves giving them a dark green phosphorescence that is the hallmark of the finest tieguanyin oolong tea.
Various grades of tieguanyin oolong tea are available. Grades are partly classified by the harvest season with spring tieguanyin tea being the best. Spring tieguanyin has a flowery quality and a light green color. Autumn tieguanyin oolong tea is also a good harvest but slightly inferior to spring. Summer tieguanyin tea is the least valuable.
Taiwan Tieguanyin Oolong Tea
Although the homeland of tieguanyin oolong tea is in China, a very fine type of this tea is also grown in Taiwan from plants originating in China. The processing of tieguanyin oolong tea is slightly different in the two countries which gives each of them a unique character.
Taiwan tieguanyin oolong tea is a high mountain tea grown in Nantou county. Taiwan tieguanyin tea consists of the bud and two leaves which are rolled and roasted many times. The level of roasting determines the color of the tea, which ranges from a light green to dark brown.