2004 Tian Jian (天尖, Tiān Jiān, "Heaven Points") - Anhua Hei Cha from Hunan is processed in different styles according to the grade of tea used. While the lower, twiggier grades are pressed into bricks, such as Fú Zhuān, or pillars, such as Shi Liang Cha, the highest grade is aged loose in a bamboo basket. Called Tiān Jiān 天尖 ("Heaven Points"), it represents the earliest Spring pluck of the Anhua tea harvest and the highest plucking standard; by definition, it can contain no more than 8% stem by mass. Compared with the pressed grades, Tiān Jiān has a smoother, darker taste and is more dense in character. The liquor is a dark reddish-brown, and the profile is more similar to Shu Pu'er than Fú Zhuān or Hēi Zhuān.
Our 2004 Tiān Jiān comes to us loose, having been extracted from its basket. We source it from the Chen Family Warehouse in Chenzhou in southern Hunan. We came to know Mr. Chen by the introduction of our friend Yan Jing, whom we knew from a chance encounter while waiting for a gangster bus for over three hours in Xishuangbanna during the water-splashing festival, when all legitimate forms of public transport were shut down. When I found out he was from Hunan, I asked him about hei cha, and he told me that his high school classmate had married a woman whose father owned a tea warehouse, where tea was held while awaiting export to its destination market in Northwestern China. When Mr. Chen took on management of his father-in-law's warehouse, he discovered the tail ends of many old lots of tea that had never ended up being liquidated and had remained in the warehouse. Recognizing the value of these aged teas, Chen built a business out of selling these old teas and also acquiring hei chas from other sources. His 2004 Tiān Jiān has a sweet, dark, mossy cocoa flavor that is most reminiscent of the house Shu Pu'er from one of my favorite Dim Sum restaurants in Kowloon. It is simultaneously dark and clear, with a robust huí gān 回甘 ("returning sweetness") that manifests in the back of the tongue and the throat. It also features a syrupy-sweet afterfragrance that leaves the empty cup smelling of molasses. This type of tea is used medicinally to aid in digestion, as it has a very grounding, cleansing, catabolic Qi.