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The Story of Ti Kwan Yin (Tieguanyin)

Iron Goddess Tea

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)