Dragon Head Phoenix Tail Tie Guan Yin (龍頭鳳尾鐵觀音, Lóng Tóu Fèng Wěi Tiě Guān Yīn, "Dragon Head Phoenix Tail Iron Guan Yin") Our traditional Charcoal Roasted Tiě Guān Yīn is distinguished from many modern low-oxidation Tiě Guān Yīn by the intense traditional Tàn Bèi 炭焙 roasting process. This step requires a high degree of experience and skill and its success or failure is absolutely instrumental in determining the final quality of the finished oolong. Master A Long of Chaozhou is a fourth generation tea master and uses the skills passed down from his great grandfather, who was an Anxi oolong master, to roast our Tiě Guān Yīn. However, the Tàn Bèi roasting step is the final process of making an oolong - the other steps include picking, withering, rocking, fluffing, fixing, oxidizing, firing, rolling, and drying. These are typically accomplished with the use of various machines, most of which employ a combination of charcoal heat and electric power to simplify the process. While the use of these machines does require skill and greatly reduces the amount of effort and time needed to process the tea, the traditional hand-processing methods to accomplish the same steps still produce a superior product, when done by a skilled master. A Long has been working with Anxi tea farmers who apply the traditional methods to a small, especially high-grade proportion of their harvest, which he then roasts himself in Chaozhou. The resulting tea is completely hand-made, giving a slightly looser, more natural-looking compression to its dark, rolled leaves. The tadpole-shaped leaves with their long “tails” give this tea its name. Because of the highly selective starting material, as well as the hand-processing that precedes the final roast, this special grade of Tiě Guān Yīn is more complex, with a deeper, more resonant huí gān 回甘 ("returning sweetness") and stronger Qi than the regular version. The after fragrance in the finished cup fades from coffee to caramel to butterscotch to vanilla before disappearing.
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This tea has a taste that reminds me of those Rollo Candies in the first few steeps. It’s very deep, chocolatey, caramel-y, and toasty. The neatness of that aside, it has a wonderfully grounding Qi and a sturdy body beneath the roast that carries for many steeps. The charcoal roast adds a sweet depth to it that helps with boiling this, as well. It’s a great tea for more focused sessions, and it really does bring about a unique calm alertness that not all teas do.