Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iron Goddess, Ti Kuan Yin, Tie Guan Yin, and TKY: What's the Difference?

Here is a question sent to the tea inbox. You can direct your tea related questions to
Aaron writes:
“I am a long-time oolong devotee, however, in the study of tea there is so much that still puzzles me frankly. For instance, Tie Kwan Yin is a specific kind of tea, but really it occupies such a range. There are green Tie Kwan Yin, more fully oxidized TWY, roasted TKY, aged TKY, etc. What really are the differences between a green TKY and a Pouching for example? Sometimes I find that I am confused by how a tea is labeled, or sometimes it seems arbitrary. Any thoughts on this?”
This is true: there are no strict standards and TKY is hugely varied. The best way for to understand the distinctions to break it down into several categories.
First, is the tea from Mainland China or Taiwan? Mainland varieties are primarily traditional--highly oxidized and heavily roasted. In the last ten years, the Mainland has begun to produce green varieties as well. Though many of the green varietals have been unimpressive, I have discovered some amazing teas with a creamy almond texture, citrus notes, and great body. Typically, these teas are lightly roasted and, historically, have been reasonably priced. In more recent years, the price on this "good" green goddess increased a great deal. The lower grade green, which is a TKY varietal that’s processed like a green oolong, is also overpriced in my opinion. I would rather drink the Four Seasons varietal from Taiwan. They are similar, and in fact, Four Seasons was derived from Iron Goddess. Even more recently, in the last two years, there has been a resurgence of less expensive highly oxidized, heavily roasted Iron Goddess from An Xi in Mainland China.
Taiwan TKYs, as far as I can tell, are all traditional. TKY is more labor intensive to produce and the plant varietal yields less leaf. As a result, the prevailing attitude in Taiwan is: "Do it right, or don't bother." The Taiwan goddess fetches a pretty penny, but is well worth the price. Taiwan's major goddess producing regions are Mu Zha 木柵 and Mao Kong 貓空 in Taipei County as well as Shi Men 石門 in Northern Taiwan. Pouchong, or Bao Zhong 包種, as it is spelled in Pin Yin, is the greenest of the oolongs and processed in a twisted leaf fashion, rather than a tightly rolled leaf. This variety is grown in the Wen Shan region in Northern Taiwan.

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