Tie Luo Han: A Great Oolong Tea

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The Chinese province of Fujian is well-known for its tea production. Regarded as the birthplace of black tea and oolong tea, it also produces high quality white teas and various flowering teas. One vast region in particular, the Wuyi mountains in the north, produce unique oolong teas with a rich mineral taste.

Of the oolong teas produced in the mountains, four are considered to be the greatest. Collectively known as Si Da Ming Cong, these teas have their own unique flavor, taste, and aroma. One of the teas belonging to this group is Tie Luo Han tea. Best known for its robust and rich flavor, Tie Luo Han leaves tea lovers with a rich mineral aftertaste.

Black Tea vs. Oolong Tea

Although both oolong and black tea originated in this same region and are both produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, the preparation methods for the two are distinctly different. Where black tea leaves are fully oxidized for an intense flavor, oolong tea leaves are only partially oxidized.

Oolong tea leaves can have many different oxidation percentages. In fact, the range for how oxidized the leaves are can be anywhere from 8% to 85%. Since the amount of time the leaves are exposed to the sun and wind can vary, oolong teas are known for having a wide range of aromas and flavors.

The Four Great Oolong Rock Teas

The plants that are plucked to create these great teas once grew wild in the Wuyi mountains. Today, only six of the original “mother plants” remain. Since some of these wild tea plants are thought to be close to 700 years old, they are no longer used for tea production. Instead, they are tended to carefully and left in peace.

The great rock teas have a distinct flavor and all of them can be steeped and enjoyed multiple times. Aside from Tie Luo Han tea, there are three other oolong varieties produced in the Wuyi mountains that fall under the category of Si Da Ming Cong (‘Four Great Tea Cultivars’):

  • Da Hong Pao
  • Shui Jin Gui 
  • Bai Ji Guan 

The Legend of Tie Luo Han Tea

This oolong tea, whose existence has been documented as far back as the Song dynasty (960-1270), is said to have been named after its connections to a Buddhist temple and the leaves’ appearance. 

This tea was found in a cave near a Buddhist temple high up in the Wuyi mountains. Believed to have been brewed by a monk who had reached a high state of enlightenment, known as “arhat,” it was consumed by the monks in the nearby temple during their religious practices. As a result, the tea was named Tie Luo Han (translated as ‘Iron Arhat’). It is also sometimes called “Iron Monk.”

Harvest & Production

Gathered in the early weeks of May, Tie Luo Han tea is harvested with three or four leaves picked together. Once they have been harvested, they are left to wither and oxidize outside in the sun and wind. Next, the leaves are then at 410°F. for 7-10 minutes to stop the oxidation process from continuing.

Then, the fried leaves are kneaded, compressing them and giving them their twisted shape. In order to make sure any remaining moisture has been removed from the shaped leaves, they are dried and roasted before being packed for consumption.

Roasting the leaves takes a few months to complete, but is well worth the wait. This process of roasting the leaves over charcoal, which can happen as many as four times with resting periods in between, gives the Tie Luo Han tea leaves an even flavor for a delicious brew later on.

Brewing Tie Luo Han Tea

If you want to brew a fresh cup of tea in a more traditional way, you will need a Yixing teapot (clay teapot) for steeping the leaves, a serving vessel, cups to drink the tea from, and a strainer to catch the tea leaves. Each brand should come with suggested leaf to water ration. For these instructions, it is recommended to use 5 g of leaves for every 12 oz of water.

  1. Bring some water (preferably spring water) to a boil.
  2. Preheat the clay teapot, serving vessel, and tea cups with hot water while you are waiting for the water to reach 212°F. Then, discard the used water.
  3. Immediately place your measured portion of tea leaves into the clay pot. When the water begins to boil, fill the teapot with water. (Remember to keep with the correct ratio of leaves and water.)
  4. Steep the leaves for 3 minutes. When the time is up, pour the tea directly into the serving vessel.
  5. Be sure to strain the tea leaves out as you pour the tea into the cups. (Set the tea leaves off to the side, as they can be used for at least three more infusions.)

Appearance, Aroma, & Flavor

Despite the appearance of the dark gnarled leaves, brewed Tie Luo Han is bright orangish-yellow in color. Its smell is described as having earthy and mineral tones, and the taste is described as slightly sweet, nutty, and having a mineral flavor.

Caffeine and Nutritional Values

One serving of Tie Luo Han tea has zero calories, fats, carbs, and proteins. While it is considered to be low in nutritional value, it does contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Even though the caffeine content can vary among oolong teas, one 8 fl oz serving typically contains somewhere between 37 to 55 mg of caffeine.

Final Thoughts

The Wuyi mountains in the Chinese province of Fujian are known for producing wonderful oolong teas. Tie Luo Han tea is classified as one of the four greatest ones. With its aromatic qualities and rich mineral flavor, it is easy to understand why this oolong tea is so highly regarded. If you are looking to expand your tea horizons, Tie Luo Han would be a great one to experience.