Tea producing styles shift according to the market. Different styles emerge and what was once popular wanes to meet demand for the next trend. Tieguanyin oolong, known as Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong in the states, is as big a name as Dong Ding. Both of these teas and oolongs as a whole have fallen prey to easier production methods to meet an increasing demand.
At least, that’s how I would like to explain the trend of nuclear green oolongs. When we discuss “nuclear green”, we refer to oolongs of very low oxidation and no roast. These oolongs puncture the eyes with a piercing, neon color. Yet, these teas have become ubiquitous. Why? Oxidation is a tough process to get right, so the less oxidized a tea, the less labor is put into it, boasting a large success rate. Roasting is even more difficult to get right, so why not get rid of it altogether? What you end up with is a very floral tea, very fragrant, and very easy to market. It can be good sometimes, if you use good quality leaves. I am simply not a fan. These teas, even if done perfectly, lack character.
Let’s explore how to regain that character.
I had the pleasure of trying a pretty pleasant older style tieguanyin. It is by no means the best specimen of tieguanyin I have had, but for our lesson today, it will suffice. You can trace the historical roots of a tea by how it is rolled at the end of its production. I present a tea that is very lightly and freely rolled, a third generation style of rolled oolongs when ball-rolling became the dominant form. From the color, you can see it is very heavily oxidized. From the smell, you can sense the light freshness of tieguanyin. It is also a Muzha variety, which means this tea is not from Mainland China, but uses leaves from Taiwan. It’s an inherently different tea, but the production method has survived here. The roasting, from the first cup, is very heavy.
The oxidation and the roast compliment each other very well. You have a very present roast in the first three cups. Beyond that, a nice rounded tea flavor presents itself at the aftertaste. It continues to linger for hours afterward. Try that with a nuclear oolong; they have a nice fragrance that doesn’t last very long.
The character of this tea is nestled in the balance between oxidation and roast. A tieguanyin of this nature will always seek to present the roast and tea as two separate acts and when those separate acts combine at the tongue in a very pleasant manner, you have a good tea.
These roasted versions will also last a great deal longer than their nuclear counterparts. You can actually arrive at the defining feature of TGY with a properly made tea. A good cup will always leave a savoriness at the sides of the tongue. It will feel like there is a lot of saliva produced in this area. A lot of older TGY drinkers prize this above all else, and through all of the TGY I’ve had thus far, only highly oxidized, highly roasted versions leave me salivating profusely, begging for another cup.