Many thanks to Elliot for generously providing me with this a sample of competition TGY from his stash purchased from Houde. Elliot talks about the tea on his own blog here.
This tea is a rather special one in several ways, the first and most obvious one being that it's competition grade and will be my first taste of awarded tea. Likewise, I have yet to find out the effects of the Taiwanese terroir on tieguanyin oolong, a variety best known for its roots in mainland China. Probably the most interesting and particular characteristic, however, is the level of roast used on these leaves during processing. To paraphrase Elliot, though not a traditionally processed TGY (traditional processing being very high levels of roasting and oxidation, more or less the opposite of most TGY sold in shops nowadays), the amount of roasting this tea was subjected to is unusually high as compared to the kinds of teas which are usually awarded in competitions (judges with modern tastes are developing more and more bias towards greener oolongs).
What with all the unfamiliar territory, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this tea bears many similarities to an aged oolong. Upon bringing the aroma cup up to my nose my first impression was of caramel sweetness, doubtless a product of the roasting applied to the leaves. This scent then evolved into the domain of fruits and flowers (with a clear note of lilacs in the second infusion; something I associate with the very few examples of green TGY I've actually liked), and finally something resembling roasted coffee. The caramel and roast remain fairly constant throughout the first four or five infusions, though the scents gradually open later and later before disappearing altogether.
The taste of this tea is tough to describe, I think because it didn't seem to have any particular flavours which stuck out and thus were easy to identify. All aspects of the flavour profile fitted into each other so seamlessly that I didn't really notice any particular notes of dark fruit or roast that would be expected of a traditionally processed TGY (though the processing on this one is not quite traditional, it's my closest frame of reference). The overwhelming impression is of the mouthfeel, which was impeccably smooth. No roughness, no astringency, no sourness. No wonder it stood up in competition.
In his review, Elliot remarks that the tea doesn't show as much endurance as some of the other oolongs he's partial to, and though I eventually got a good number of flavourful brews out of it, the character of the tea went through a turning point around the fifth infusion and changes dramatically. Whereas in earlier infusions, the brew was incredibly well balanced with no flavours out of place, a distinct vegetal note first emerged in the aftertaste and then grew to fill the whole cup. Brewed a bit cooler and with longer infusions, I found this cool, green, and slightly sour taste refreshing, though perhaps that's because I'm used to finding it in an aged oolong that's on its way out.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this unfamiliar territory and learning a bit about what makes a competition tea, albeit one which is less than standard fare. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and I hope to see more not-so-green teas recognised in the future.
Edit and Addendum on September 2, 2011: As it turns out, my assertion that the level of roast applied to this particular competition Muzha TGY was unusually high was a bit misguided. In fact, the amount of roasting on this tea is more or less typical for an awarded example, it's just that roasted teas in general are not awarded quite so often. For the record, the roasting was electric.