The Story of the Iron Goddess of Mercy

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Tieguanyin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy, is one of the most prestigious and renowned varieties of Chinese Oolong tea with a fabled history. Originating in the Anxi region of the Fujian province of China in the 19th century, the tea boasts a variety of complex flavor profiles depending on its production process. The flavor that tieguanyin possesses was so great that at one point it was said to be only reserved for royalty.

Named after ‘Guanyin’, the Goddess of Mercy, a prominent bodhisattva in the Buddhist religion, this Chinese tea is drenched in legend, with two myths taking center stage.

The first is that of a poor farmer named Wei. The story goes that on his way to the fields where he worked every day, Wei would walk by a run-down temple devoted to Guanyin. Wei lamented the dilapidation of the temple, but being too poor there was little he could do other than regularly cleaning the temple and lighting a candle in deference to Guanyin. One night the bodhisattva appeared to him in a dream and told him a treasure was hidden in a cave behind the temple. The next morning Wei went out to investigate and found a tea plant, which he planted in his field. After cultivating the plant it started to produce the most delicious tea imaginable. Overjoyed, Wei shared his crop with his neighbors, and over time everyone in the region prospered.

The other story is that a scholar named Wang accidentally stumbled upon the tea plant underneath the Guanyin rock in Xiping. He brought the plant home to nurture it and use it to make tea. When he visited the Qianlong Emperor, he brought some of the tea as gift and the e

Guanyin goes through a complex production process; it starts with the plucking of leaves, it is then withered in the sun, cooled, tossed, slightly oxidized, another round of tossing and withering, fixation, rolling, drying, sorting, and finally packed for the market. Iron Goddess of Mercy comes in a number of variations, all depending on variations within this production process. For instance, Jade Tieguanyin is a more recent variation of the tea that is only lightly roasted, giving it a green jade color and flowery taste. A more traditionally thoroughly roasted batch, in turn, has a more complex taste. Then there are differences caused by harvest time: The best quality tieguanyin is harvested in spring, while leaves harvested in the summer are considered to be of significantly lower quality. Finally, the region in which it is cultivated makes a difference. The Anxi variety is only slightly oxidized, making it closer to a green tea, while the Taiwanese Muzha variety is roasted, giving it a stronger and more nutty taste.

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