The Beauty of Ti Kuan Yin

October 28, 2020

by Sara Shacket

Whether it’s referred to as Ti Kuan Yin, Tie Guan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy, this semi-oxidized oolong has a wide range of flavors depending on where it’s grown and how it’s processed. The leaves can be floral and creamy, gently vegetal and slightly nutty, or dark and roasted, so it’s important to know a little about location and processing before purchasing your tea.

The tea gets its name from the Ti Kuan Yin cultivar, which was named after bodhisattva of mercy (Ti means Iron, and Kuan Yin refers to the goddess of Mercy). Masters Teas offers two different styles of Ti Kuan Yin oolong: Traditional and Muzha. Let’s look at how these two teas differ, and how they taste.

Traditional vs. Modern

Ti Kuan Yin (TKY) originated in the Anxi area of China’s of Fujian province in the 19th century and is where you’ll find the Masters Tea Traditional Ti Kuan Yin grown today. Originally TKY was given a medium level of roasting, with the flavor falling between a greener oolong and a highly roasted tea.

Modern Chinese Ti Kuan Yin which was developed in the late 20th century is kept lightly processed. This allows the tea to retain stronger vegetal, floral, and creamy notes. It has less oxidation and minimal roasting.

Masters Teas traditional Ti Kuan Yin is grown by farmer He Ling. Instead of creating a more modern, greener oolong, Ling processes this tea in the traditional style with a light oxidation and a medium roast. The tea she creates retains a bit of that green, floral flavor but also has a comforting toasty touch.

Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin

Muzha Tie Guan Yin (TGY) is produced in the Muzha area of Taiwan, hence the name. The Ti Kuan Yin cultivar was brought to Taiwan in the 1920s. Compared to Chinese processed oolong, the Taiwanese TGY is highly roasted with much darker leaves producing a more earthy, roasted flavor. The climate and soil in the Taiwanese mountains also contribute to the difference in flavor and texture.

Masters Teas Muzha Tie Guan Yin is produced in Wen Shan Taiwan (shan means mountain) by farmer Jin Yi Li. The Taiwanese style calls for a longer oxidation period than the Chinese Anxi styles and are finished with a longer roast.

Tasting Traditional Vs. Muzha TGY

A good way to get to know the different flavors in these teas is to do a side by side tasting. Each tea will show how factors such as location, weather, and processing changes what’s in your cup. It’s really a fun, interactive ways to learn about these teas!
Both oolongs are tightly rolled and do have some level of roast, but have very different flavors. I did a cupping of Traditional Ti Kuan Yin and the Muzha Tie Guan Yin and I had a great time discovering the stories these leaves had to tell.

I used traditional cupping sets for this tasting but gaiwans or small teapots work just as well. Both teas were steeped at 195 degrees, using three grams of tea, six ounces of water, steeped at three minutes each. You can play around with the steeping parameters but make sure you steep both teas the same way.
The traditional Ti Kuan Yin is lighter, and more vegetal overall. The dry leaves have a sweet, floral flavor with notes of buttered popcorn. The brewed tea is vegetal and slightly nutty, reminding me of dried roasted peas. It has lingering sweet creamy notes. The tea has a light, creamy mouthfeel.

The dry leaves of the Muzha Tie Guan Yin dry leaves are full of roasty sweetness, with toucher of earth and roasted bread. The brew is more robust than the Traditionally processed tea, with strong nutty, roasted flavors with a strong lingering sweetness of stone fruit and caramel. This tea has a round, full body.

Due to their rolled leaves, you can get multiple steepings out of both teas. The tightly-rolled leaves slowly unfurl, sharing their flavor. You can steep these teas until the leaves are completely unrolled, fully expanding into your vessel. So don’t stop after just a steep or two!

Similar, But Completely Different

I love how these teas have the same name but are completely different in flavor and personality. Warm and roasty or light and floral, there is a Ti Kuan Yin to fit your mood. I love having both greener and more roasted oolongs in my tea cabinet, so I can reach for the flavor I’m craving. Cheers!

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