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What is an Authentic Tiekuanyin Tea?
2021.02.09|3 mins read
For those of you who don't live in Taiwan or China, you may not have heard of the term "authentic Tiekuanyin Tea". However, here in Taiwan, authentic Tiekuanyin Teas are widely sought-after by tea lovers. So, what exactly is an authentic Tiekuanyin Tea? Why is it so popular? And how is it different from the other Tiekuanyin Teas?
To answer the above questions, we first have to know what Tiekuanyin Tea is. There are two main factors that give each the its uniqueness, cultivar and processing method. Cultivar is the differences in the tea trees. Just like apples, tea trees come in many different cultivars; each of them gives out unique taste, texture, and aroma. Assam, Jinxuan (Milky Wulong), Ruby, etc., are all names of the tea tree cultivar. Tiekuanyin is also one of the cultivar. Processing method means how the fresh tea leaves are processed into teas after harvesting. Some of the most common processing methods of Taiwanese teas include Wulong tea, Baozhong tea, Red tea, Tiekuanyin tea, etc. Theoretically, we can pair each and every cultivar with different processing methods, processing them into different types of teas. But of course,  the results will all be different, since the final product will still be affected by the characteristics of its cultivar.
The so-called authentic Tiekuanyin tea is the Tiekuanyin tea made with Tiekuanyin cultivar, using the Tiekuanyin processing method. Tiekuanyin is a naturally rich cultivar, coming with an aroma of ripe fruits and a unique citrus-y flavor. When processed with the Tiekuanyin method, which emphasize a high fermentation, the method helps bring its characteristics to the fullest, giving us a rich taste and texture, and the well-known lingering after-taste. However, Tiekuanyin cultivar is infamously hard to take care of. For starters, unlike most of the other tea cultivar, its branches are very messy. Secondly, in order to bring out its richness, we have to let it grow a few weeks more mature than the other teas before harvesting, making it even more difficult to pick and process. Therefore, some farmers will use other cultivars, such as Jinxuan, Sijichun... to make Tiekuanyin teas. Although these teas are all make using the Tiekuanyin method, they will not have the signature fruity taste and strong after-taste, no matter how similar they taste with authentic Tiekuanyin teas. This is why Tiekuanyin tea lovers are especially fond of authentic Tiekuanyin teas.
Due to being difficult to cultivate and process, the yield of Tiekuanyin is relatively lower than most of the other Taiwanese cultivar. Hence, to differenciate the Tiekuanyin teas processed with Tiekuanyin cultivar, many tea house in Taiwan will label them as "authentic Tiekuanyin teas". However, what we do in our tea house is exactly the opposite. Since established, we insist in using only Tiekuanyin cultivar to process Tiekuanyin teas. That is to say, all of our Tiekuanyin teas are authentic, even our prized-winning teas are no exceptions. That's why we don't label them differently. Although in recent years, the judges in Tiekuanyin tea competitions tend to favor the samples with a higher fragrance and sweeter taste, creating more difficulties for authentic Tiekuanyin teas to rank higher, we still remain persistent. We believe that only by processing Tiekuanyin teas with Tiekuanyin cultivar, can we provide people with the genuine taste of the tea. If we don't put effort in preserving this genuine taste, it will gradually be forgotten in time.
So how can we tell the differences between authentic Tiekuanyin teas and the others? The first way is to taste and feel if it has the fruity aroma and long-lasting after-taste in the throat. But for those who are not familiar with how Tiekuanyin tastes, it might be hard to be sure. In this case, we can also observe the tea leaves after brewing. The leaves of Tiekuanyin teas are asymmetrical; the tip of the leaves will curve to one side. However, since the leaves have all been processed, it could be not easy to see clearly how they look now. Therefore, the easiest way to find an authentic Tiekuanyin tea is to buy from a tea house yo trust. The tea house knows the origin of its teas, and will make sure to provide teas with the same quality. With all of these being said, the most important thing is to enjoy teas as often as you like. There's no better way to learn to understand the nuances of each type of tea than drinking them. Don't forget, while getting yourself familiar with the genuine taste of Tiekuanyin tea, you are also helping to preserve the traditional culture of tea!
Pictures & Article © 張迺妙茶師紀念館 Tea Master Chang Nai-Miao Memorial Hall