This is the most famous of all Chinese oolongs. Guanyin, sometimes called the Goddess of Mercy, is actually more like the Buddhist equivalent of the Madonna. She is a Bodhisattva, one who is qualified to enter nirvana, but chose to remain on earth to bring all to enlightenment. Statues of her stand in many Buddhist temples, and a woman who wants a child may pray to her. A legend gives one version of why a tea bears her name.
An iron statue of Guanyin stood in a rundown temple in central Fujian’s Shaxian (Sand) province. The temple’s condition aroused the concern of a tea grower who passed it daily. Financially unable to repair it, he thought that the least he could do was to burn incense and clean the place twice a month.
One night Guanyin appeared to him in a dream and told him to look in the cave behind the temple for a treasure. He was to take it for himself but also to share it with others. There he found a single tea shoot which he planted and cultivated into a bush with leaves that produced a singularly fine drink. He began selling it under the Guanyin name, and gave many cuttings to his neighbors. All prospered, and eventually the temple was repaired.
A book from contemporary China gives another version: this tea is so named for the appearance of its processed leaves — dark as iron and heavier than other teas, but with a quality as pure and beautiful as Guanyin.
– As described in the book, All the Tea in China
by Kit Chow & Ione Kramer (1990)