Sunday, September 6, 2015

What-Cha - Fujian Anxi 2008 Heavy Roasted Tie Guan Yin in Bitter Melon

(note:  This is a re-hosting of my review of this tea which I wrote in July 2015 on Reddit /r/tea)

I’ll be honest here. I bought this tea simply for the weirdness factor. OK, that may not be entirely true because I do really like roasted oolongs, but this is the first time I have seen anything like this, and when I first saw it on What-Cha, I immediately said, “I want that thing.” I even bought 100g of it because Alistair of What-Cha says, “We will endeavour to send out a whole bitter melon on orders of 100g or more.*” For some reason I felt that if I only ordered 50g I would only be getting half of the strangeness of this tea, and I didn’t want to feel cheated, and forget ordering just a 10g sample-- I imagine that would just be small handful of oolong balls and a few slivers of melon rind-- that’s hardly weird at all. I wanted to experience the full WTF (weird tea factor).

(*This was recently changed to, "All orders of 125g will be guaranteed to receive a whole bitter melon." as the 100g option has now been replaced with a 125g option.  I speculate that this is due to the many complex factors regarding the bitter melon market that I do not comprehend.)

So here it is. 100g (including the 5g in my gaiwan) of heavy roasted Tie Guan Yin stuffed into a Bitter Melon.

I can't stop staring into the intricate patterns and colors of the melon rind.  It's like an extraterrestrial landscape.

Although I did buy this because of how it looks, I was hopeful that my love for roasted oolongs would actually make this a useful purchase. It’s true, at first I was scared to even brew this tea; I have no idea what a bitter melon is, how it tastes, or if tea or anything else is routinely stored inside of one for practical reasons, but the tea itself looks like normal high roast TGY, though a bit squashed together, and it has a nice fruity smell like Fig Newton cookies, so that’s definitely a good sign!

Alistair said that it is recommended to break off some of the melon and brew it with the tea. For a moment I tried to pretend that I didn’t see that, but then I reminded myself that I want to experience this unique tea to the fullest so I made sure to toss a few melon chunks into my gaiwan. It’s much thinner and fragile than I imagined it would be; thin as an egg shell, but not quite that brittle, more like the bark of a sycamore tree.

The liquor looks like normal high roast TGY… nice light brown/orange color, and surprisingly very clear. A nice fruity smell with no unusual aromas... Maybe this isn’t scary after all...

I took a deep breath and then a sip. IT’S GOOD!

It has the flavors that I really like in a roasted TGY: cherry, charcoal, and hint a chocolate. This one is actually even better than the last roasted TGY I drank a week or two ago-- I’m also getting some raisin and tangerine flavors, and a very dominant flavor of figs. (The website mentioned plums… I haven't had any plums in a while-- Do figs and plums taste similar?)

Like a good oolong, this can be resteeped many times, and the fig flavor stays dominant throughout, with a nice fruity sweet fig aftertaste.

So my gamble of buying 100g of this tea definitely seems worth it-- not only did I get the entire full weird looking melon, but I also got 100g of tasty roasted oolong. And the price is actually very good. Although it’s weird, unique, and good tasting, it’s also very affordable-- the 100g package was less than $15.  I noticed that recently the 100g option has been replaced with a 125g option for just over $16, but you can also order this tea in 50g or 10g packages.  

This item to me is representative of why I really like shopping at What-cha. They seem to offer a wide variety of less common teas from a wide variety of sources, and the prices are very good. Even if I’m shopping for something somewhat normal, I try to look around their selection for at least one unique item to throw in my cart just because it’s not an opportunity you have everywhere. Don't be afraid to try something weird!


  1. Unfortunately I am unable to try this, though it looks so good. Bitter melon interacts with calcium channel blocker another lifetime I hope!

  2. I saw these at WTE but they weren't for sale :( I recently managed to snag one on ebay, which is cheaper than What-Cha, though I hope it's just as good. All those tasting notes sound up my alley!

    1. I wonder how many producers make a tea like this? It's possible that they could have come from the same source, but someone on Reddit mentioned that they received one as a gift from a tea farmer somewhat recently, and the tea inside theirs is much greener, so they may be slightly more common than I realized!

  3. One of the vendors at WTE had these last year and the bloggers all went gaga for it. Like you, I really wasn't sure how I'd like it but it was actually really good. That's not a bad price at all either!

    1. Ahh, I imagine that the WTE is a fun event-- is it in the same place every year?

  4. I have yet to brew my sample of these (which I was able to snag from WTE). It was quite divine.