Tie Kuan Yin
In honor of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, we would like to focus on one of China's most famous teas: Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin. The origin of this oolong tea dates to the early 18th century, when the Tie Guan Yin varietal of tea plant was discovered in Anxi county of Fujian province. Legend has it that monkeys were trained by monks to pick the choicest leaves from wild tea trees growing in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province. This monkey-picked tea was presented as tribute to Emperor Qian Long in 1741 and, for many years, was enjoyed exclusively by the Imperial Court. Over time, as the tea became more accessible to the general population, it provided inspiration for poets, artists, scholars and philosophers.
Tie Guan Yin means Iron Goddess or Iron Bodhisattva; the leaves are dark like iron yet the taste is light and ethereal, like the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin. Another Chinese legend says that the Goddess of Mercy appeared in a dream to a local farmer and told him to look in the cave behind her temple. There he found a single tea shoot, which he planted and cultivated. From that time, the tea has been known as Iron Goddess.
Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess) Tea. Ti Kuan Yin is the most famous of the Chinese Oolongs. This tea produces a light, sweet cup with a fragrant orchid finish.
Deep in the heart of Fujian's Anxi County there was a rundown temple that held inside an iron statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Everyday, on his walk to his tea fields, a poor farmer would pass by and reflect on the worsening condition of the temple.
Something has to be done, thought Mr. Wei. But he did not have the means to repair the temple, poor as he was.
Instead the farmer brought a broom and some incense from his home. He swept the temple clean and lit the incense as an offering to Kuan Yin. It's the least I can do, he thought to himself.
Twice a month for many months, he repeated the same task. Cleaning and lighting incense. One night, Kuan Yin appeared to him in a dream. She told him of a cave behind the temple where a treasure awaited him. He was to take the treasure for himself, but also to share it with others.
In the cave, the farmer found a single tea shoot. He planted it in his field and nurtured it into a large bush, of which the finest tea was produced. He gave cuttings of this rare plant to all his neighbors and began selling the tea under the name Ti Kuan Yin, Iron Goddess of Mercy.
Over time, Mr. Wei and all his neighbors prospered. The rundown temple of Kuan Yin was repaired and became a beacon for the region. And Mr. Wei took joy in his daily trip to his tea fields, never failing to stop in appreciation of the beautiful temple.
Other names: Ti Kwan Yin, Tieguanyin, Tie Guan Yin, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Tea of the Iron Bodhisattva
Today, monkey-picked simply means the highest quality Tie Guan Yin tea available. Picked during the spring and fall from higher elevations than other Tie Guan Yin grades, the monkey-picked grade is entirely handmade by small family artisans with great care.
The taste is alluring with a fresh orchid aroma, a bold fruity flavor and a sweet, lingering finish. While Tie Guan Yin can be simply brewed in any teapot, we recommend the gongfu method using lots of leaf, multiple infusions and brief steeping times to bring out its full characteristics.
Grown in the An-xi region of China’s Fujian province, Tie Kuan Yin is the world’s most renowned oolong tea. 40% oxidation results in a tightly wound, uniform tea that is very dense, sage green in color and with what appears to be a light glazing of frost. The art of making Tie Kuan Yin is quite complicated, particularly as the tea nears completion. It is refired one final time at a very low temperature; at this point the most distinguishing feature of the tea (the light glazing of frost) appears on the outside of the tea as the remaining moisture is slowly steamed out.
The most authentic method for making Tie Kuan Yin (Gong-fu Cha) requires the delicate tea wares from Yi-Xing. The tiny pot fits in the palm of one’s hand, and the cups are walnut sized. The pot is filled half full with tea and prepared quickly, as a series of successive steeping bring out a perfume-like fragrance, yet on which is balanced by a lingering sweetness on the tongue. The high point of this method of taking tea was reached during the Qing dynasty. Throughout Fu-Jian, Chao-zhou, and Quan-Zhou, teahouses flourished like mushrooms after a rain. At home, as well this method of enjoying tea with guests was considered a mark of distinguished hospitality.