I had some of my nongxiang tieguanyin from Beijing today. I’ve been trying to balance these warmer teas against those stomach eating young puerhs I’ve been drinking (ok, so they weren’t all THAT young). The higher fire teas definitely are mellower on the body and easier to drink. However, at least in the case of high fire oolong, they are not necessarily easy to brew.
With things like qingxiang tieguanyin I find that as long as you are careful, nothing can go horribly wrong when you brew it unless the tea itself sucks. You can get a fairly consist cup of tieguanyin or Taiwan oolong without too much work and sweat. It’s easy, it’s nice.
With higher fire stuff, however, like the nongxiang tieguanyin, or some roasted oolong and the like, it gets trickier. There are various levels of firing. This particular one I had today is only of a medium fire, I would say, and ends up being fairly tolerant when it comes to brewing. I filled my pot with about half of it full with dry leaves, and brewed a nice cup that lasted quite a few infusions without getting sour or bitter. That’s not always how it is, however. The Taiwanese nongxiang tieguanyin I got, for example, ends up being very easily sour. I can’t stuff half of my pot full of leaves and expect it to come out fine, even with very low infusion times. Instead, I have to only use about 1/3 of the pot full of leaves, and still watch out for overbrewing. Sometimes there’s a hint of sourness, which is ok, but if it gets too strong, it’s just bad.
I remember when I brought the Taiwanese nongxiang tieguanyin to the Best Tea House after my visit to Taiwan (bought a box for the salesperson I know there as a gift). There happened to be one of the regulars, who also has some sort of working relationship with the teahouse, sitting there that day in the “master” seat (i.e. the person doing the brewing). Well, he took the box, and filled a gaiwan with about 80% of it full of the leaves. It came out a bit too strong and sour. He then declared that this is no good, and then took out a box of his own shuixian and brewed it the same way, and said “this is how old oolong should taste like!”. I personally find the tea to be quite enjoyable if you play with it and find the right balance to make it — not every tea will work with the set parameters for whatever method you have, and that’s part of the fun.
It’s hard to tell too on the first try what a tea is actually going to be like. You can never know for sure with a higher fire oolong how it will turn out once it hits water. Things can go very awry, very quickly. The first time or two can easily end poorly with some infusions not working out so well, but after a few times, you’ll get the hang of it. That is, of course, until you run out of that particular tea and get a different batch….