Curated Samples #1: Roasted tieguanyin

This post is about the first set of Curated Samples. For details of my rationale and thinking behind this project, please go read the original post. For clarity, I’ll divide this post under smaller headings.

The teas


As I mentioned before, the inaugural Curated Samples will be a set of five teas. They are leaves from the exact same batch of tieguanyin, with the only variable between them being the time spent in the roasting oven. The tea was roasted by a shop that has been in operation for over fifty years, and whose owners have always done their own roasting. They switched to electric roasting about 30 years ago during the 80s, when regulations and escalating costs meant that owning a large, charcoal roast warehouse was no longer an option given their location in the city.

The bottom left you see above is the original tea, with no roasting at all done by the roaster. The one at the bottom right is the final product, after spending 59 hours in the roaster. The three above, from left to right, are the intermediate ones, at 15, 30, and 45 hours each. You can see slight variations in the colour of the dry leaves in the intermediate ones, although they are not immediately obvious. The difference between roasted and unroasted, of course, is night and day.

The only tea that is sold by this shop is the final product, the bottom right one. The rest are not sold, and in fact, the owner pretty much flat out said the intermediate ones are not very good at all. I asked him to do this for me because I wanted an example where we can completely isolate the roasting time as the only factor that differs between the teas, and by taking a bit of tea out of the oven every 15 hours, we are ensuring that they have been through as little variation in their processing as possible. This is not the same as trying different teas with different roasting levels, because in those cases they may have been roasted in different ways to achieve different tastes. Here, they have gone through the exact same thing, but only with different times. This is why the intermediate teas are not considered finished products – in fact, they’re basically half baked, literally.

For some of you, this might be some of the highest roasted teas you’ve ever tried, since teas like this is not routinely sold in the West outside of a few outlets. Most tieguanyin you encounter these days tend to be closer to the raw tea you see here, and even roasted ones are quite a bit lighter than even the 15 hours version here. Such teas are quite popular in Southeast Asia and is the traditional teas used for the Chaozhou gongfucha.

What I hope this will show is the difference that time spent in roaster will do to a tea, and what, exactly, roasting does to a tea to begin with. While the dry leaves don’t seem to differ that much, you can see that the liquor is somewhat different.


Also, as a bit of an added bonus and something that Brandon reminded me of just now, the final roasted tea is actually almost exactly the same in style and taste as many fake aged oolongs that are being sold on the market. Very often, you may encounter aged oolongs that are very highly roasted and claims to be quite old – 20 or more years, with the additional claim that it has been reroasted frequently. In fact, they are often just newly roasted tea pretending to be old. This tea is not sold as aged oolong at all, but some would do that, so knowing what this tastes like will help you distinguish fake, heavily roasted oolong from aged ones.

For this set, I will include 25g each of the 0, 15, 30, and 45 hours of roasting, and 50g of the final product for the purpose of comparison. So, this will be a total of 150g of tea.

The cost

The entire set will be priced at $60 USD, inclusive of everything. This includes costs for the tea, packaging, shipping, as well as my legwork and time, as I have mentioned in the last post. It will be shipped via registered mail worldwide at the same price. If you can show me that you’re a current full time student at some institution, I’ll take 20% off. I think Paypal is the only logical form of payment here. There are a total of 30 spaces for this.


Many of you have expressed interest in the project, but not necessarily for this specific set. I also hadn’t announced the price for the packet at that time. If you have already expressed interest and I don’t hear from you again, I’d assume you’re still interested, in order to save you the trouble of having to sign up again. Some of you, however, look like you might have used an email address that isn’t real. If that’s the case, please post a response here with your real email address, so I can contact you. Those who haven’t expressed their interest, please do so within the next 72 hours. If you expressed interest but only generally, but not actually interested in this particular round (some liked my aged oolong idea better, for example) please let me know as well so I’ll take your name out. After that, I will put everyone’s name in a lottery and allocate the samples to the 30 names that popped out. Of course, if interest level is lower than that, then there’s no worry.

Then what?

I am thinking of withholding from posting about these teas until almost everyone has had a chance to try them. I will probably create a separate page on this blog and those who have the tea can post their own thoughts, if they so wish, there. I hope this may facilitate some discussion about what they get from the roasting levels, and anything else that pops out. Ultimately, I hope this will be an interesting, and somewhat nerdy, exercise in communal tea exploration.


Curated Samples #1: Roasted tieguanyin — 64 Comments

  1. I would love to be a part of this tea sampling. I am a student at Cedarville University on Ohio and can prove this to you by sending you my current class schedule if you need me to. Thank you very much again for putting this together. I am very excited to try this or any of the other samples you will put together. The email here is my school email and check it often.
    Thanks again

  2. Hi Mr. N,
    Glad to see this is moving forward. I see the comments on your original post have jumped up to 71. I’m sure some of those folks would appreciate your TGY tasting more than me. In the spirit of sending good things to those who know how best to appreciate them, please remove me from the running if more than 30 people sign up for the drawing.

    If, however, you find yourself with extra kits, I’m more than happy to snap one of them up : )

  3. Could make it more interesting if you do single blind, I’ll bet some will like the ‘fake’ oolong, choose it amongst their favorites :D. Also, include at least one Taiwanese grown/ handmade of same style. Almost a ***must***, would be (likewise all single blind) a true *charcoal-roasted* version.

    At the local Wing Fung Hop or whatever it’s called (always forget 🙂 ) in Monterey Park, Calif, they sell as their ‘premium’ TGY, one that is dark brown in color, similar looking to your darkest (though photos are poorly lit) for around $60/lb , that which I don’t really care for, Give similar dark color infusions, of a weird arse (not to my taste) carmel-malty like flavor that dominates. Perhaps I should send *you* a sample so you can see what is available here in the “West” at the mid-level, lol.

    Tally the votes based on the criteria, examples above; then you get a more fully, true ‘education’.

    • Well, for WHF to make money at $60/lb, I can’t imagine the tea costing more than about $10-15 originally, which is pretty low grade stuff here. I can find teas like that, but they aren’t going to be very good.

      I think voting is inherently problematic though, because people often vote for things they’re more familiar with because they can ID it, and will determine that things they don’t know as well being “weird”. Taste is a funny thing, really. New drinkers to puerh often think of it as nasty and bitter, and a few years later they’re enjoying fresh current year 7542 from Dayi. Go figure.

  4. I am interested in the finished product. Is this available?
    As I will skip this sampling but will want to try the aged oolong sampling.
    Do you have my email from the sign in?

  5. I think I will take a pass on this one, not without regret. I’ll keep a look out for the results, and look forward to the next curated sample set in the future! Thanks again…

    • This is the highest grade of TGY they offer. I specifically asked the shop owner if he wanted his shop’s name be known, but he preferred if I don’t broadcast his name, because he doesn’t want to be associated with the intermediate teas, which he thinks of as no good. This was only done because of my request and not a usual thing for them to sell. As for costs, I believe I’ve already explained myself how this was priced, and I’ve updated the section to make it clearer, thanks.

  6. Count me in!
    How can I prove being a student? As I’m afraid my photo student ID card is of little value for this purpose, as you can’t really see my face.


  7. Hi Marshal N,

    Just to confirm that I am still interested – email address is on the record now I believe.

    I was hoping you would opt for the PayPal, most convenient.

    A not directly related question: The headline photo changed… gaiwan en lieu of many tea pots.. esthetic or more fundamental reasons?



  8. Still interested … and the email provided is accurate and up-to-date 😀

    I am also currently a full-timer … what sort of “proof” are you looking for, and where do I send it? Thanks Marshal.

  9. I am, of course, in. May I ask? What about level of oxidation of those leaves? My thought was that traditional TGY compare to modern green one is not just higher roast but also higher degree of oxidation…Am I right?


    • It’s actually a very interesting question, because it looks like the oxidation level here is quite low. I suspect with this high a roast, oxidation might be completely meaningless by the time it’s all said and done. Just a hunch.

  10. Hi Marshaln

    You can take my name off the list for this round. I am interested in the aged oolong round!
    Thank you taking the time and putting this together for us. This will be a great learning experiences.


  11. I’m still in. I gave you my correct email in the first place, and here it is again. I really hope I am picked. As a novice, I’m really in need of something like this. What a great opportunity. Thanks again!

  12. I am very much interested in this project, although not necessarily this particular test. If you do one that will bring me closer to being reliably able to differentiate lao/gu shu from tai di cha, I will be all over it. Please put me on your email list.

    • That is a tall order! One of the difficulties is that it really, really requires someone you can trust to control for things like geography and processing. It’s possible, I guess, but it won’t be easy…

  13. I was anticipating smaller samples of tea…at a little less cost. Seems totally fair, just a little out of my budget right now, so I will opt out of this one. Hopefully I can catch the next round.

  14. I’m a long time reader of your blog and would love to get a chance to taste what you’ve been hoarding. Please let me know if there is still space for me. I am a full time student and have left my school e-mail address as proof.

  15. I found you blog earlier this year and have enjoyed it and learned much from it. I’m basically new to teas, beside good old southern sweet tea… I’m interested in this and any future sets you chose to do.

  16. Pingback: MarshalN’s Curated Samples – Roasted Tieguanyin « 茶叶记

  17. Looks like this one happened over a year ago. I’d love to join the aged oolong tasting when you get around to it. I’m in taipei, next time you’re around get in touch. I know a lesser known 50’s shanghai style tea house with a great atmosphere.

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