Sunday, September 26, 2010

20 Year Old Tie Guan Yin

One received this sample when in search for old puerh. It was kindly sent with other puerh samples from Daniel of Vancouver's famed The Chinese Tea Shop. According to his webpage it took a long time to acquire this tea, which came from an old source. It has been charcoal roasted the traditional way and re-roasted every 3 years or so. With all the talk on Life In Teacup about whether Tie Guan Yin ages well, and being that it is seasonally the most appropriate time to consume such a tea, it feels like a good time to give it a whirl.

On this cool early autumn day, with water boiling, lets sit down, slow down, and enjoy some tea...
The dry leaves are oily, dark brown pellets full of sweet, spicy, fruity notes. Upon closer inspection the leaves are a very dark brown. The smell is deep, spicy apricot and apple. These leaves receive a quick rinse before the fist infusion inducing a cloud of smells.

The first infusion is prepared with just off boiling water. A fresh, malty chalkiness lightly coats the whole mouth with a lingering vanilla note. It has much flavour to pick on with a baked spicy and very light, sweet fruity notes apparent as well. The flavour and feel has an aged hardiness to it yet still retains its elegance. The thick but very slight aftertaste stays around for a long time while transmitting more of the dominant vanilla, and now, coca sweetness. A sweat breaks instantly. The chaqi moves, rises, disperses- the light, aromatic, floating, dispersing energy is powerful and calming. It's direction is quickly outward and upward. Ones forehead immediately perspires.

In the second infusion malty-thick, viscous, slippery flavours slide over the mouth- completely embracing it. A light sweetness with thick malty bottom comes over the mouth like a wave leaving behind the deep, mysterious, and chalky. Light into dark, light into deep, summer into fall. The tea reaches deep into the throat. The aftertaste is just a continuation of the initial sip.

The third infusion has an initial flavour that bends to more of a caramel-maltiness. There is a fresh quality that presses against the heavy, viscous bottom of this tea. A gritty, chalky nature is revealed in the full mouthfeel and throatfeel of this tea. The chaqi induces a sweat every time the first cup of a new infusion is consumed. Besides dispersing up and outward, the chaqi also warms and strengthens the middle jiao as it slowly creates a comforting warming sensation in the guts.

The fourth infusion has the vanilla notes more prominent. The taste becomes a bit more creamy with deeper notes becoming less overpowering. The mouthfeel becomes more sticky and slick. The aftertaste is as full as ever with chocolate vanilla notes burrowing deep into the throat.

The fifth infusion tastes lighter and fresher with ghostly, but still very present, deeper notes hanging on. The finish is still that sweet, light, ethereal, vanilla coco. The mouthfeel is thinner initially and thickens out in the throat. The qi here is warming and disperses slower now. A hot flash now hits the head minutes after finishing the pot. Now the warming- middle nature of the chaqi is more predominant over the dispersing nature.

In the sixth and seventh infusions the tea develops a woody, slightly spicy character with the vanilla and chocolate notes just present as a back taste. It finishes dry and slightly bitter. The mouthfeel is lighter and sharper. The aftertaste is deliciously long and starts to develop a sharp tartness. The flash of heat comes much later and is just slightly noticeable now. Strong relaxation is induced.

This tea is taken a few more infusions. This last push contains sharper, thinner flavours of spicy wood with even some subtle fruity notes.



Sir William of the Leaf said...

What a rare treat.
What I wouldn't give to be in your shoes at that moment!

Matt said...

Sir William of the Leaf,

Have never liked wearing shoes when drinking tea. It just doesn't seem as enjoyable with shoes on.

As a rule of thumb: the closer you feel to the earth, the more enjoyable the tea experience, the more connected you feel with the tea.

Tea is better without shoes. It is better sitting than standing. Better sitting on the floor than sitting in a chair. Better sitting by a window with natural light than walled in without natural light. Better outside than inside.


Pedro said...

Better by a fire. Better with friends. Better by the spring that supplies water for your tea.

And better with folks whose feet don't smell, if they don't wear shoes :)

Good week to you.

Matt said...


That's why you are always wearing shoes when drinking tea?



MarshalN said...

Actually, with aged oolongs if you just leave the water in the pot for an hour or so, you'll always get more out of it, regardless of how many infusions have come before.

Matt said...


"The last push" mentioned at the end of this post was a series of a few hour long/ overnight steeps. It still delivered decently interesting flavour but some of the breadth of the tea had already played itself out. The "subtle fruity notes" were interesting though as they seem to be hints of this teas youth- the lighter, higher notes that Tie Guan Yin is famous for.

One always hits aged Oolong and most other aged teas with these long steeps often lasting for a few days which allows for full appreciation of these teas.

Thanks for swinging by and bringing that up.


Ho Go said...

I love aged Shui Xian teas. 10+ years of aging can yield very interesting results.

With TGY, Chinese tea drinkers seem divided between fresh and aged teas. My local tea master insists it should be drunk relatively fresh. I'm sure there are merits for both views. Personally, I haven't drunk any aged TGY or aged Taiwan oolongs that really impressed me and wanted to buy more of. This doesn't mean they are not out there.

Best way to drink tea? Without ourselves getting in the way. :)

Matt said...


Yes, it seems to be a divided issue. (see this post: )

It really depends on what is being valued by the individual. Primarily, the aromatic and lighter complexities are the main reason TGY is sought by most people. If a lighter, more feminine taste and feel is desired then no question fresh Tie Guan Yin is better. If a deeper, grittier taste and feel is desired then aged Tie Guan Yin is better. Some argue that if you really want a deeper, grittier tasting tea you could probably find much better with another type of aged tea.

If taste and aroma are valued then the fresh tea is probably better. If qi is valued then aged is better.

The qi sensation of aged TGY is interesting in that its floating, dispersing nature that is evident in fresh TGY is deeper, stronger, and warmer. And it also generates much warmth in the stomach and mid-body. These characteristics presented simultaneously are not likely to be found in new TGY nor in other aged teas so there is value in aged TGY as well. This type of chaqi therefore has very specific medicinal uses that most other teas don't have.

"Best way to drink tea? Without ourselves getting in the way"...

Love that thought.


Ho Go said...

"If taste and aroma are valued then the fresh tea is probably better. If qi is valued then aged is better."

I'm not sure I understand this concept. Everything has inherent Qi. If we say the Qi changes in an aged tea, are we talking about its Qi or are we talking about a chemical change in the tea's structure? I don't think they are the same. Plus, wouldn't a fresher tea have more Qi? This is a very esoteric area where great assumptions can be made both true and untrue. How do we know what's true? From a book? What are we feeling? Our own mythology? Someone else's mythology? Proceed with caution. :)

Matt said...


Tea is a processed product, all tea undergoes some type of production (unless you are picking to eat it). Although tea like everything in the world has initial qi, when we refer to the chaqi we usually mean the qi of the tea we are consuming in a moment in time- an interaction of everything, a totality of things that occurred before.

Qi is yang, yang is active, it is energy, movement, so qi should not be thought of as something frozen in time at a certain state. It is alive and always changing. So although chaqi includes initial qi, it also includes everything else that has happened to the tea after it was plucked. Mostly these other influences are part of production and aging. How could we separate the initial qi from the other influences that have impacted the tea?

The questions you list are good ones because they all deal with "understanding" and "conceptualizing" chaqi but really chaqi can only be experienced. Expressing a qi sensation is no different than expressing the taste of tea. People seem way to cautious about expressing what qi sensation they experience but have very few reservations with expressing what taste or smell they experience. So as far as chaqi goes, restraint or caution isn't necessary.

Once again, thanks for bringing some focus to this issue worthy of some clarification.


Ho Go said...

"Qi is yang, yang is active, it is energy, movement, so qi should not be thought of as something frozen in time at a certain state."

It is said that Qi is both Yin and Yang. In the body, it is said that there is an innate Qi that everyone is born with. It is not static or frozen. Qi can increase or decrease in the body. Aging process is usually associated with a decrease in Qi, and, death, the absence of Qi in the body.

"It is alive and always changing. So although chaqi includes initial qi, it also includes everything else that has happened to the tea after it was plucked. Mostly these other influences are part of production and aging. How could we separate the initial qi from the other influences that have impacted the tea?"

Not separate. My question, not conclusion, is why should Qi change or increase in an aged tea when it is actually undergoing a decomposing process? I would assume fresh tea is more 'alive' than aged tea in the sense of the nutritional elements that we value in tea.

It's interesting to ponder all of this. It always leads me back to the question do we really experience anything? Is there really any 'experiencer' apart from what's been put into our brain? :)

Matt said...


It is understood that your questions are not your conclusions, but rather for clarification, and mainly, great discussion.

"why should Qi change or increase in an aged tea when it is actually undergoing a decomposing process?"

Because we can't differentiate or separate the 'initial qi' sensation from the 'inital qi' + fermentation we concede that chaqi includes both as well as many other factors (type of cultivar, soil conditions, climate, altitude, temperature it was picked, time of day it was picked, amount wilting time, the amount of sun drying, the length of fermentation, the climate of fermentation, ect, ect). It is said that chaqi changes because it is always in a state of change, in the case of fermentation there is a change of energetic potential energy that takes place.

Perhaps your question is one of separating the existence of one thing from another- tea from the biochemical process of fermentation. But doesn't fresh tea undergo many biochemical processes as well? But we don't attempt to separate tea from some growth factor, we simply call it tea. So, as you stated at the end of your comment it is how we see things and draw the line between things. This seems to be a continuing challenge put to the readers of MattCha's Blog. This has always been the great debate of esoteric practice as you mentioned in the last comment you made.

This is how the Buddha responded to such challenges:

"Subhuti, if a daughter or son of a good family were to grind the 3,000 chiliocosms to particles of dust, do you think there would be many particles?"

Subhuti replied, "World-Honored One, there would be many indeed. Why? If particles of dust had a real self-existence, the Buddha would not have called them particles of dust. What the Buddha calls particles of dust are not, in essence, particles of dust. That is why they can be called particles of dust. World-Honored One, what the Tathagata calls the 3,000 chiliocosms are not chiliocosms. That is why they are called chiliocosms. Why? If chiliocosms are real, they are a compound of particles under the conditions of being assembled into an object. That which the Tathagata calls a compound is not essentially a compound. That is why it is called a compound."

"Subhuti, what is called a compound is just a conventional way of speaking. It has no real basis. Only ordinary people are caught up in conventional terms."

from Chapter 30 of the Diamond Sutra translated on the Joygae Order of Korean Buddhism


Ho Go said...

Is Qi a concept to be sought after while drinking tea? Or, is the simple enjoyment of flavor and aroma enough?

Where do your ideas about Qi come from? Probably from what you've read on the subject. I will venture to say that this has nothing to do with anything but ideas, more concepts, which takes one away from direct experience and into the world of endless thinking, endless speculation, endless separation. Proceed full speed ahead. :)

Matt said...


Qi simply happens, we feel it. It doesn't have to be more or less complicated than taste or flavour.

One has never read a book on chaqi or even seen one (Aaron Fisher's book The Way of Tea mentions a few pages on chaqi). Ones experience with qi is mainly from personal experience, reflection, meditation, but also involves study under teamasters (these people usually don't want to discuss qi but rather encourage you to experience it yourself), and as you mentioned study of Classics such as the Nei Jing and Religious texts such as The Diamond Sutra but they don't explicitly mention chaqi either.

Think this learning process has brought more clarity than confusion because it seems to explain what is experienced rather than dictate what was experienced. It seems after a post on chaqi many readers comment that they had this feeling already but couldn't put it into words or put it together into a theory.

But, just like the taste and smell of tea, the experience of chaqi is a subjective perception, and everyone's is a bit different, and is no doubt influenced by their past experiences.


Wojciech Bońkowski said...

This is a great discussion. Thanks to both.

吉道 Giuseppe said...

I'm eagerly awaiting a package from Daniel now, and he included a sample of this (or a similar) tea, as well!
I can't wait!

I'm curious about his Chinese black tea, too. I may order some next time. The yellow-orange leaves intrigue me.

Matt said...


He carries very interesting teas that is for sure!

Have not tried that aged black tea.

Still got a few samples somewhere.