1995 Tieguanyin From Maokong

The leaves of this tea are dark brown, and clearly roasted as I’d expect from an aged oolong. As usual I can’t honestly verify that this tea is actually from 1995, but I know that when I was in the shop purchasing it, we tasted a selection of the owner’s aged Tieguanyin ranging from 1992 to 1998 and decided we liked this one the best. Buying directly from a tea master like this is about as good a guarantee as you can get unless you’ve aged it yourself.

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The infusion is a beautiful dark amber, already giving a sign of its quality. An overly-roasted aged oolong can be murky, but this is clear and glowing. The taste is roasty and rich. It has a full mouth-feel like a good Da Hong Pao and, for me at least, a comforting sensation. I suppose I can be comforted by many teas, but I would definitely call this ‘comforting’ as opposed to ‘energizing’ or ‘calming’. Drinking it is like sitting by a winter hearth, basking the gentle scent of woodsmoke.

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The level of roast is what sets this tea apart for me. Roasting oolongs, particularly for aging, is not an easy task. A little too much and the tea tastes sharp and baked. Too little and the tea may be too bland or worse, too green for aging. This Tieguanyin doesn’t taste of charcoal or burning. There’s even a light touch of sweetness, as though someone added a tiny spoonful of sugar to my cup.

I bought this tea in Maokong, Taiwan at the Chang Nai-miao Memorial Hall (張迺妙紀念館) while looking for teahouses. My friends and I stumbled across this wonderful place quite by accident.

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Maokong (貓空) is a popular but rural and somewhat remote part of Taipei, sitting atop a mountain. They’re famous for their teahouses and the tea they grow tea there. We took a gondola to get up to the area which is a popular tourist attraction in itself. Not only was the line quite long, but we had to get a ticket and wait an hour to even get in line in the first place. The gondola ride was beautiful, going past temples and between some low mountains (~400 meters).

IMG_1874When we arrived at the top we were starting to get hungry, but we also wanted to find a pleasant teahouse. Well, in Maokong, there are a lot, but most of them seemed to be just restaurants. We hiked for an hour or two around the mountain until we stopped in to a small family cafe. We were served a delicious selection of veggies and some OK oolong. Of course, we weren’t going to get amazing oolong with a meal!

While eating we tried to communicate with the proprietors (including one very helpful dwarf gentleman), but without much luck. As is often the case in these situations, it seemed that they knew of someone who could help. One of the family members rushed out of the door on some mission. Minutes later, she returned, alongside a woman who spoke excellent English. With the new woman’s help we were able to explain that we were in Taiwan exploring the tea culture. Much to our surprise the woman asked us to join her next door where she worked in a tea museum! It turns out that she was the wife of the owner of the hall and a relative of the owners of the restaurant. We snagged a personal tour of the hall and a lot of tea processing information, as well as a wonderful gongfu service with the current master.

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The woman’s husband was Chang Weiyi (張位宜), a descendent of a famous tea master for whom the memorial museum was made. He had also studied teapot making in Yixing and the hall sold some of his works. One of my all-time favorite teapots is one that I purchased there. With his wife’s translation, he brewed us several Tieguanyin as mentioned above. This 1995 was so divine that we decided to split some to bring home.

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The stoneware jar it came in reads 木柵鐵觀音, which is Muzha Tieguanyin, and the year. I still feel that this experience was one of the best parts of the whole trip and I’m very happy to still have this tea to remember it by.

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