The legend(s) of Tiequanyin – Iron Goddess Oolong tea

Iron Goddess tea
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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.

Wei 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 Legend

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.

Monkey Legend

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.

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The French and Their Tea

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An interesting article appeared on the BBC’s website in April; it was about France and French teas in comparison with Britain and their treatment of tea. As it turns out, France is reentering the tea market and is quickly becoming famous for their unique and beautiful blends.

The strange thing is, France once upon a time had a tea habit that seriously rivaled the English tea consumption rate. However, as time went on it eventually extinguished to the point where it was very difficult to find a good-quality cup. Only aristocrats and very unwell people drank it on any sort of regular basis, and good tea had to be almost exclusively self-imported.

You can read all about France’s tea story in the BBC article, here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26962095

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Your Opinion Would Be Appreciated

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Today is a day for Gauging Interest, I think.

All of you are our readers, and we love having you on board. While we have a multitude of posts on a multitude of different topics surrounding tea, we want to know what you want to see more of. So, we’re going to start with a quick poll. You can choose up to three of the following options:

Now here’s the not-as-quick (but still quick!) option: are there any particular posts that you would like to see? We have access to a wealth of tea knowledge here at Australian Tea Masters, and chances are if you have a question about something related to tea, we probably a) know the answer, or b) can get to the bottom of it.

In addition, if you have a tea blog you’d like us to look at (or know someone else’s), link us! We’re always keen to network and share useful posts to a wider audience.

A Pot Full of Memories

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Made from a special clay found only in the city of Yixing, China, this extraordinary teapot possesses the ability to absorb the flavours of the teas inside it over a number of years.

Those who have the privilege of owning and using one over many years are said to be able to brew tea simply by adding plain, boiling water to the pot.

Before the teapot is made, the mined-out clay is left in the sun in the form of large rocks after extraction to weather. This process will take in excess of a year before the clay is ready to be pounded into a powder and sieved to remove impurities. The clay is then placed in a large fresh water tank for three days, and is then allowed to dry out under sunlight. Finally, before it is ready to be sold, excess moisture is drawn out of the product using a vacuum processor.

Such preparation seems excessive, but it doesn’t end there. The potter artisan must make time for a further two days of processing, which involves pounding the clay with a wooden mallet while every so often adding some water, until there are no air pockets to be seen.

With such a lengthy process and renowned tea-brewing capabilities, Yixing teapots are not nearly as expensive as they might sound at first glance. The unfortunate truth, however, is that while commonplace in China, much of the Western World is unfamiliar with them.

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A History of Tea Drinking in Russia, Part 1

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With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games under way, there is much to be said about Russia. Many don’t realise, however, that Russia has a long history of drinking tea – even longer than Britain, believe it or not – and the country itself still greatly appreciates a good cup of tea to this very day.

A good 100 years before Britain got its first taste of steeped heaven, Russia was importing tea from China. The rest of Europe would have to wait as Russia developed a bustling and thriving culture of serving tea.

During the 19th century, tea had become so strongly associated with the people of Russia that despite the fact tea was produced in China, certain types of black tea were known as “Russian” teas anyway. Russian Caravan is a traditional black tea and is known for its smoky character. It received its name due to its method of importation; generally via caravans led by camels. Black tea is still the most popular tea in Russia, however many residents are now drinking green tea as well.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Russia’s rich culture in tea is its climate; cold days high up in the Northern Hemisphere chill to the bone, but tea is one of the best and tastiest ways to warm up from the inside. Tea has had a profound affect on the Russian way of life since it was introduced in 1638; the Chinese Emperor from West Mongolia first presented the Russian Czar with tea as a gift, however it was refused. The Czar saw no apparent use for “a load of dead leaves”, however eventually accepted upon the Emperor’s insistence. And thus Russia’s tea culture began.

Getting to Russia from China, however, was no simple matter. It was a difficult slog from start to finish, and the harsh conditions importers faced meant that many turned down the offer despite demand. Russian aristocrats were therefore the first to serve the drink and make it acceptable within Russian culture, as its limited supply resulted in skyrocketing prices that few could afford.

When Russia marked sovereignty over Siberia in 1689, however, a tea trade route was created which made it easier for traders. Catherine the Great was the real pioneer in tea importation, however; by the time she had died in 1796, she had ordered the importation of so much tea that class and expense was no longer an issue. Even low-class workers could afford and enjoy the serenity that came with a good cup of loose-leaf tea.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on tea in Russia! Throughout the Olympic Games we will be creating a number of other Russia-themed posts, including more Russian tea history and all about the samovar.

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An Exciting Offer in Tea Education

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An exciting opportunity has come about in the tea world recently, thanks to the hard efforts of the ITEI, or Internation Tea Education Institute. Hosted by four tea experts – Sylvana Levesque, Brigitte Horrenberger, Susan Peters and Sandy Li – a 10 day intensive is being held in Zhejiang Province, China, where you can learn about Chinese teas in a way that no other educational experience could hope to provide.

Students will take part in a large variety of educational tea activities from renowned local producers, growers, and experts. Focused on will be the famous Chinese green tea Dragon Well, or Long Jing.

The tour begins on September 15, 2014, and continues for a total of 10 days and 9 nights.

Included in the cost of the tour:

  • 10 days and 9 nights in the Hangzhou region of Zhejiang Province. Beautiful five-star hotel accommodations are provided throughout the tour
  • Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are all provided daily
  • Transport to all locations in the tour, including to and from Hangzhou Airport
  • A professional photographer to document your learning experience, as well as four tea experts to guide and educate you
  • All activities, entrance fees, etc. are included
  • An “Advanced Certificate for Education in Chinese Tea Study & Travel” will be awarded to each student upon their completion of the tour

Not included:

  • Airfares (this allows students to extend their trip beyond the tour dates).
  • Travel insurance

A tuition fee of $4,250 for ITEI and CTMA (Canadian Tea Masters Association) members, or $4,475 for non-members. Further details will be announced soon and displayed on the ITEI website in the tea tours section. For bookings and more information, please feel free to contact Sylvana P. Levesque, at info@i-tei.org.

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Afternoon Tea Etiquette

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The etiquette involved in afternoon tea is quite rich and complex. Due to its conception in the 1800’s (when the importance of manners was an imperative topic), it became quite a topic of adherence and admiration. Those who served as hosts and took food as guests were expected very particular conduct, right down to the way a person stirred his or her tea with their spoon. During this time missing your manners was both embarrassing and disrespectful.

While in general modern life is not nearly as strict with social customs, manners and etiquette are still important and relevant during a session of afternoon tea (although how formal it is is often up to the host’s discretion). In light of this, we’ve created a guide so that you can achieve excellent tableside manner during this most decadent snack.

The Role of the Host

When you first decide to hold an afternoon tea, you should at least consider the season of the year; warmer weather is best, as an afternoon tea is much better when sitting in low-seated outdoor chairs in a pleasantly warm garden.

As the host, your first and foremost concern should be your guests. As you serve them tea, offer to stir in the sugar or milk if the decide to have it; during the earlier 1800’s you would generally have been in control of this by default, as both tea and sugar were expensive commodities. However, those who could afford both tea and sugar easily would allow their guests to add their own milk and sugar, demonstrating their wealth and social dominance. Obviously neither are relevant today with the relatively low cost of both tea and sugar, so it is best just to ask.

Your teaware should ideally be made of porcelain. China cups can be extremely beautiful to look at and the delicacy of the cup showcases much about afternoon tea itself, in an almost ceremonious way. Also included should be a three-tiered cake stand; the best of these come in silver – yet another way to demonstrate wealth – however you should feel free to use a stand made of other materials, as many people often do. Saucers should always be given to your guests to go with their teacups, as well.

All foods should be presented by you and placed upon the serving table. After all, it would not do to have your guests running around to get food themselves, as that would be impolite of you. As they are your guests, you must tend to them.

 

The Role of the Guest

The teacup you are provided with will most likely be a handled variety, although some of the more traditional Chinese cups may come without a handle. If this is the case, then it is important to remember that these cups will usually become unbearably hot around the middle, so you should try to pick it up by the rim, instead. Use your first three fingers and your thumb to pick it up at the very top, while maintaining a pinkie out for balance.

Handled varieties of teacups are easier to manage; you should pick these up with your first three fingers and thumb by the handle, however it was considered impolite to loop your fingers through it. Instead, you will need to use strength in your fingers and thumb to clamp the handle and raise it that way, again keeping that pinkie out for some added balance.

Your teacup will be presented with a saucer. This saucer should not be brought to your mouth with the teacup, as this is considered impolite. The saucer must remain on the table (or your lap, depending on the type of afternoon tea in session) as you drink your tea. As you drink, do not slurp. If you stir your sugar in yourself, also avoid clinking the spoon against your teacup.

It is an important note to add that you should never, however tempted you may be, add lemon to tea containing milk. This is not for politeness’s sake; the result will be curdled milk. Due to lemon’s vast quantities of citric acid, the fruit can actually partially cook meats when the juice is squeezed onto them. The same, unfortunately, is true for milk.

When it comes down to manners and etiquette, this is all you should need to know to hold your own afternoon tea session, or attend one. Politeness was key in late 18th Century Britain, and it only continued to blossom as time progressed to the 19th Century.

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