Tiequanyin, or Iron Goddess, is one of the most well-known teas in China. It is different from other oolongs in that it is fermented longer and its leaves tend to be more spherical in shape. The Iron Goddess brews into a golden brown liquid with a strong baked aroma, with a sweet and fruit flavour. People are drawn to the tea for its taste and fragrance but few are aware of the history and legends behind the name of this tea.
Iron Goddess oolong has three legends surrounding it; the Wei legend, Wang legend and the Monkey legend.
Centuries ago there lived a poor farmer in the Fujian Province of China. There was a temple in this province that was dedicated to the Iron Goddess of Mercy and every morning the poor farmer would walk past his temple to his farm. The temple had not been cared for in a long time and was in a very poor condition. The farmer had no means to repair the temple but still wanted to help. The farmer bought a broom and some incense, he swept the temple clean and lit the incense as an offering to the Goddess. For many months the farmer repeated the same tasks. One night, the Goddess appeared to him in a dream, she told him of a cave behind the temple where treasure awaited and that he was to take the treasure and share it with others. In the cave, the farmer found a single tea shoot which he planted in his farm and nurtured into a large tea bush, from which the finest tea was produced. He gave cuttings of the tea plant to his neighbours and started selling it under the name Tiequanyin. Over time, the farmer and his neighbours prospered and the temple was repaired and became the beacon for the region.
Wang was a scholar who accidentally discovered the tea plant beneath the Guanyin rock in Xiping. He brought the plant back home for cultivation. When he visited Emperor Qianlong in the 6th year of his reign, he offered the tea as a gift from his native village. Emperor Qianlong was so impressed that he inquired about its origin. Since the tea was discovered beneath the Guanyin Rock, he decided to call it the Guanyin tea.
Many centuries ago, a Buddhist monk was picking tea leaves. His monkey saw his master picking the leaves and started imitating him. The monk discovered that the tea leaves picked by the monkey produced a uniquely different flavour than the ones he picked himself. He was so impressed that he got his monkey to begin picking tea for him from the high mountains of Fujian province which was unreachable by humans. Others tea pickers saw this, and started adopting the practice themselves. But now, only a small Chinese village still continues the tradition.
Whether or not these legends are true, it is still amazing that a single type of tea can hold so much history.