Thursday, November 29, 2007

Buddhism 101: Tie Guan Yin | 2007 Anxi Xi Ping Tie Guan Yin

Tie Guan Yin: you've heard the name, and likely quite a few mistranslations. I'm willing to bet you've been thinking, "By golly, I sure wish someone, preferably a strapping young lad, would write a post about the Buddhist themes behind Tie Guan Yin!" My readers, today is your lucky day.

Guanyin Depictions"Tie" means iron, and "Guan Yin" (lit."Observing the Sounds/Cries of the World") is the Chinese name given to the Indian Buddhist figure Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (It is also the name of a similar figure in the Daoist tradition, but it is commonly understood that this Daoist figure was lifted from Buddhism). A bodhisattva, in short, is a very advanced being who is nearly enlightened but not quite there (essentially, the state right before Buddha-hood), who compassionately aids other beings on their paths to enlightenment. There are a number of bodhisattvas in the Mahāyāna* traditions and Avalokiteśvara/Guanyin is one of the most popular ones. Interestingly, Avalokiteśvara is male in his Indian depictions, but becomes represented as female when imported into Chinese culture.

*[As a brief aside, Mahāyāna is not a particular "school" per se, but rather more of a "movement" or trend. Most Buddhists today are Mahāyāna, whether they are fully aware of it or not, except for Buddhists in S.E. Asia where the Theravāda school is dominant.]

Importantly, a bodhisattva is not the same thing as a god/goddess. I often see Tie Guan Yin translated as "Iron Goddess of Mercy/Compassion," but it is more accurately translated (In Buddhist context, anyway) as "Iron Bodhisattva of Mercy/Compassion." In the Buddhist hierarchy of beings, gods are not necessarily any closer to enlightenment than a human, animal, or any other being– they have just earned more good karma in their previous lives.

A bodhisattva (lit. "Enlightenment Being"), on the other hand, can be any type of being (god, human, etc.), has spent many lifetimes in pursuit of enlightenment, and can, among other things, control how they are reborn (example: the Dalai Lama is considered to be Avalokiteśvara in human form, and claims the power to direct his rebirth). A god, while powerful, is still more restricted than a bodhisattva. A god is still "stuck" in the system, while the bodhisattva isn't. A brief analogy: a god is like an "agent" in "The Matrix," while a bodhisattva is like Neo– the agent isn't as powerful as Neo because he is still confined by the rules of the Matrix, while Neo can bend/break these rules. Though the movie does contain some other mish-mashed Buddhist ideas, it is far from a perfect analogy, so don't read too deeply into it. :)

At the risk of this becoming an irritatingly long post, I will also briefly describe the legend of the tea, Tie Guan Yin.

A poor farmer was dismayed by the poor condition of the Guanyin temple (with an iron statue of Guanyin) near his home. He wished to repair it, but had not the resources to do so. Doing what he could, he instead brought frequent offerings of incense and swept the floor of the temple. One night, the bodhisattva Guanyin appeared to him in a dream, telling him that there is a treasure for him and his neighbors behind the temple. The farmer looks and finds a lone tea plant, and takes it back to his farm, where he cultivates it into a tea bush, which produced spectacular tea. He gave cuttings to his neighbors, and they sold the tea as "Tie Guan Yin." Eventually, of course, there is a happy ending: the farmers grow prosperous, and the temple is rebuilt. Hooray!

As for the legitimacy of the legend, who knows. All that really matters to me is that we have it now, and it is darn tasty. So, without further ado, my notes about Jing Tea Shop's Anxi Xi Ping Tie Guan Yin.

Wikipedia on Guanyin, Avalokiteśvara, and Tie Guan Yin

Class: Oolong
Origin: Xi Ping, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2007
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop (This tea is now sold out, sorry!)
Price: ? (can't remember)

Anxi Xi Ping TGYThis post is already hideously long, so I won't say too much. This is a good tea, for sure. The aroma of the dry leaf is toasted grains with light fruit and flowers. Has a "breakfast-y" aroma, if that's a word. (I suppose just "breakfast" is descriptive enough without the "-y" attached.) The leaf looks a little ragged, to be honest, but I'm thinking it might be more loosely-rolled than most TGY, because the wet leaf seems to indicate this is more than just dregs from the bottom of the barrel/bag/bucket/misc. storage device it came from.

Parameters: 100mL zisha gaiwan, 5g leaf, off-boiling water. Steeps around 30s.

The liquor is similar to the aroma: toasted grain and floral, with a bit more floral character and a pleasant astringency coming out a few infusions into the session. Not the most complex– not nearly as complex as the Gan De TGY from Jing I had a while back– but a good, solid, tasty tea. Actually, this is a perfect example of how more complexity doesn't mean better. I enjoy drinking this TGY far more than the Gan De, even though the Gan De was one of the more complex teas I've ever tried (which, admittedly, isn't that many, but you get the point).

The wet leaf shows a large amount of whole leaves, which are quite tough to the touch, not fragile like some others. Mmmmmmmm. :)

Anyway, that's it for now. Expect more Buddhism 101 when I get around to some other teas with Buddhist names (Tie Luo Han, for one, but I'm guessing there are others out there). Hope you enjoyed it!

[Edit: I just came across this Anxi Tie Guan Yin tasting set at Jing Tea Shop. I haven't ordered it, but it looks interesting.]

[Edit 2: Thanks to Nada, who pointed out that "Chenrezigthangka" refers to the painted scroll of Chenrezig, the name of the actual figure. Thanks Nada!]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Same nerdy goodness, new location!

Hey all, Tea Nerd can now be found at! Any old links to (or any posts) will still work, so don't bother changing links or bookmarks. Enjoy the new, shorter, spiffier URL!

Friday, November 09, 2007

2007 Fukamushi Sencha "Super Premium"

Class: Green
Origin: Uji, Japan
Year: 2007
Vendor: Hibiki-an (Product page)
Price: $15.00 (40g)

Hibiki-an Fukamushi SenchaIt's been a while since I posted any notes about sencha, so here goes. I just got this tea today, so I don't have a lot of experience with it, but I liked it enough the first time around to write about it.

The dry leaf is, well, fukamushi. It doesn't look pretty. This is just a result of the deeper steaming, though, so it's nothing to worry about. The aroma is a bit grassy, vegetal, and "marine." Mmmm!

I brewed this with more leaf than I would normally, on Chip's recommendation. I used 5.7g leaf (There wasn't much thought involved in picking this number, by the way, it's just what looked good at the time) and 200mL of 165-170°F water, and steeped for 60s, 30s, 50s, and 90s.

The liquor brews to be a lovely emerald color, even without the help of the cloudiness, which sets in starting with the second infusion. The flavor is sweet and candy-like, though frankly it was a bit weak considering the amount of leaf I used&mdash perhaps a higher temperature would help that. There is a touch of astringency, but that is likely a result of my own brewing and not the tea's fault. The second infusion especially had a rich umami goodness, which made the tea feel quite robust in the mouth. One of the things I like about this tea is that it is more "active" than other senchas, in that it leaves a coolness in the throat and a pleasant oily sensation on the tongue. This does happen in some other senchas, but not usually this much.

By the fourth infusion, it started to get a bit watery. If you bumped up the temperature this tea could probably keep going, but I doubt it would be much longer. Anyway, I very much recommend trying this tea. It's not an everyday drinker at the price of 15 clams for 40g, but it's a nice treat.

[Also, I just added a new wallpaper of that fine-lookin' kyūsu to the Wallpapers section. Enjoy!]

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

1982 Aged Wenshan Baozhong

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wenshan, Taiwan
Year: 1982
Vendor: Red Blossom Tea (Product page)
Price: $46.25 (4 oz.) / $12.50 (1 oz.)

This is one of the more interesting and puzzling teas I've come across lately, and it doesn't help that it is also in a category of tea I have just begun to explore. Anyway, on to my notes.

As soon as I opened the bag, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience drinking this tea. Smells of various spices, molasses, and notably peppermint blasted their way into my nose. After the initial reaction of "what the hell?" I remembered fellow bloggers commenting on the "spice" aroma of Red Blossom's aged sheng puerh. Aged BaozhongAre these things related? A common storage issue, perhaps? Anyway, such inquiries are purely speculative and presumably not why you are reading this, so let's continue.

Most of the spice seems to disappear once water hits the leaf, but the mint carried on well into the session. Actually, it was a pretty short session-- this tea didn't seem to have much endurance, at least not in my first attempt to brew it. With 6.5g of leaf in a 100mL gaiwan, it only went for 5 good infusions before getting weak.

What struck me about this tea was how much it tasted like puerh. I don't have the experience to say whether it tasted more like aged puerh or shupu, but it was in that range. It was not at all what I expected. It had a smooth texture, earthy, malty flavor and aftertaste, and mint like I mentioned earlier (The mint wasn't at all like the camphor I've tasted in some puerh, in case you are wondering, it almost tasted like it was flavored). This tea really didn't even begin to taste like a typical aged oolong until the end of the session, though the wet leaf and gaiwan lid smelled like oolong the whole time– weird. There was a good throatiness to the tea, and left a tingling minty taste/flavor on the back of my throat. There may have been some qi, but I wasn't sweating so it wasn't too strong.

The wet leaf was fairly surprising– there are large, full leaves here. While welcome, I haven't seen this in aged oolong before. Red Blossom notes on the product page that it hasn't been roasted for 25 years, perhaps this has something to do with it. (As a side note, Andy and I were wondering whether this meant never roasted, or just never re-roasted.)

Once I got past the weirdness, I decided that I do like this tea. I'm not sure I would buy a lot of it, but it is certainly good for switching things up a bit every now and then.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2006 Wuyi Shui Jin Gui

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mtn, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Teacuppa (Product page)
Price: $32.00 (100g) / $6.00 (15g)

Shui Jin Gui PicturesIt has been a while since the Teacuppa online puerh tasting, and I remember hearing back then that their focus was more on Wuyi yancha and not on puerh. I have tasted about a half dozen of their Wuyi offerings now, and I can confidently say that they know their stuff when it comes to yancha. I suppose it's a bit ironic that I would happen to feel like blogging at the same time I brewed up my least favorite sample from them, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, I suppose.

The dry leaf is lovely in both appearance and fragrance: the leaves are dark, and there is a classic deep chocolate aroma, with the slightest hint of tropical fruit and spice. I decided to brew this fairly conservatively, with 6 grams of leaf in my 90mL yixing and long steep times (20 seconds to 2 minutes).

The first infusion, after a flash rinse, was pretty good. It was hearty, with a good amount of "fire," hints of tropical fruit, and a base of cocoa/coffee. There was even a healthy fruit aftertaste. After that, though, things went downhill quickly. It was thin, weak, and a bit sour. I'm thinking this tea probably needs more leaf to express itself best, but unfortunately I only got a 15g sample so there's not a lot I can do.

The wet leaf is mostly chopped up, with a few long leaves here and there.

Overall, I'd say this is just a mediocre tea. Not bad, but not great either. As I mentioned before, it is a shame that I felt like blogging as I tasted this. I'll get around to posting about the other Teacuppa yancha samples someday, but until then, I should say that this is the first one I wasn't thrilled with— all the others have been very good, and I recommend them wholeheartedly.