A charcoal-roasted dark Oolong tea, the affectionately named Old Iron (lao tie) falls halfway between a green and red Oolong.
The flavour carries the clarity and pure taste of a green Oolong, but with the more subtle deep roasted tones of a red. Often ignored even in China, nevertheless this tea is one of our favourite brews to date and a great everyday drink.
Old Iron is grown on the family farm of Su Wei Bo in Gan De (感德), Anxi. The farm consists of 300mu in the high mountains around 1000m above sea, and was passed down to Su by his father, who began the family business over 40 years ago. They produce just one type of tea here - tie guan yin - which is gently roasted after processing to produce Old Iron.
Old Iron starts life as a normal Iron Buddha tea, which is picked in the first week of May, usually at the same time as the Labour Day holidays. Pickers start before the sun comes up, and the leaves are immediately spread out in bamboo baskets to oxidise for up to 18 hours. Oxidisation is the key to the distinct oolong taste, and the length of oxidisation is what gives Iron Buddha its complex and heady aroma. After it is processed normally, the tea is gently roasted over charcoals for 3-4 hours to become an 'Old' Iron Buddha tea.
After oxidisation, Iron Buddha is shaped and processed in a highly unique way. It's wrapped tightly in cotton cloth until each 'tea ball' is as hard as a brick. Then it is rolled through a set of metal rollers to give the leaves their unique shape, and then opened out and 'bruised' by literally smashing it against the floor!
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If you want your tea the traditional way, try out these miniature thumble cups. Small and delicate, they are double-walled to keep your tea warm and avoid scalding your fingers, and hold a perfect three sips of tea.