Tianjian Tea (天尖) is a variation of Anhua Dark Tea. Its name means “Heavenly Tips”. As indicated by its name, it is considered to be the most delicate and precious of all dark teas from Anhua County. Produced in relatively small quantities, it used to be a rare and luxurious gift.
Tianjian Tea in comparison with other Anhua Dark Teas
Of all the variations of Anhua Dark Tea, it is the one made with the most thin leaves. Still, the leaves from the middle sized tea plants are not picked at their smallest stage. This allows them to go through Anhua Dark Tea’s intricate production process.
The two critical production steps for making Tianjian Tea are the smoking of the leaves over pine wood and their pile-fermenting. The smoking is common to all varieties of Anhua Dark Tea. The pile-fermenting is milder than for ripe Pu’er Tea.
Among all compressed teas, it is the most loosely compressed. The leaves are steamed and pressed into woven Bamboo baskets. Unlike Huajuan Tea or Dark Bricks, their compression is really soft. They can be easily picked apart and look like loose leaves.
How to choose a good Tianjian Tea?
It is of course inevitable that some leaves will break over time. However, your tips should not look like they have been cut into pieces: This is the sign that leaves of different quality and origin have been mixed together and made to look homogenous.
Not overly smoked
While smokiness is an essential aspect of Anhua Dark Tea, the smoking of the tea leaves over the traditional qixing-stove (七星灶) requires a lot of skills. The tender tips are most sensible to being over smoked.
The smoky taste of appropriately smoked new Tianjian Tea is still quite strong and gets milder with ageing.
Not overly pile-fermented
Pile-fermentation is also a key step in the making of Tianjian Tea. Just like the smoking, it should not be overdone. Good Tianjian Tea should especially not undergo a second pile-fermentation. This is sometimes done to correct characterless or over smoked tea leaves. Done to premium leaves, this would take away their edge and make them average.
The picture above shows Heavenly Tips and a traditional bamboo basket.
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