Tie Guan Yin is a variety of oolong tea which originated from Anxi County, Fujian, China in the 19th century.
Since then, it has become one of the most famous teas found throughout the world.
Like many other famous Chinese teas, Tie Guan Yin also has a story to tell.
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The Meaning of Tie Guan Yin
The name Tie Guan Yin translates into ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’ and is named after Guan Yin, a Buddhist bodhisattva in Chinese lore. Guan Yin is often associated with the virtues of mercy and compassion.
Guan Yin also goes by many other regional names.
- Hong Kong: Kwun Yum
- Japan: Kannon, Kanzeon
- Korea: Gwan-eum, Gwanse-eum
- Thailand: Kuan Eim, Prah Mae Kuan Eim
- Vietnam: Quan Am
The word ‘Tie’ means ‘iron’ and refers to the compressed shape in which the leaf is rolled into during processing. The sound produced when dropping the rolled tea into a teapot is said to resemble the iron.
The flavor of Tie Guan Yin is considered by many to be purifying in nature and thus is one of the reasons why it is associated with Guan Yin.
The Legend of Tie Guan Yin Tea
There are two legends attributed to the origin of Tie Guan Yin tea.
These two legends are referred to as the Wei legend and the Wang legend.
The Wei legend begins in Anxi County, in an old shabby temple which contained an iron statue of the bodhisattva Guan Yin. The story goes on to state that a poor farmer, known as Wei, would often walk past the temple and noticed that it’s condition was getting worse and worse with each passing year.
He thought to himself ‘Something has to be done about this!’
But being a farmer, Wei was relatively poor and did not have the financial means to pay for any repairs. So, he decided to bring a broom and some incense from his humble home and clean the temple himself. As he swept the temple, he burned incense as an offering to Guan Yin.
Twice a month, for an undisclosed period of time, the farmer diligently swept the temple, thinking to himself that it was the least he could.
The legend goes on to say that eventually Guan Yin appeared to the farmer in a dream and told him about a treasure which was in a cave behind the temple. Guan Yin told the farmer to take the treasure and share it with others. In the cave, Wei found a tea shoot, which he planted in his field and nurtured until it grew into a respectable tea bush. He believed it to be the finest tea ever produced and proceeded to give cuttings of the plant to his neighbors who proceeded to grow it as well.
While selling the tea, it was decided to refer to it as Tie Guan Yin, in honor of Guan Yin.
The legend even has a happy ending, as it is said that Wei and his local village were eventually able to repair the Guan Yin temple with money made from selling Tie Guan Yin tea.
Wang was a local Chinese scholar based in Xiping, China. This legend states that Wang discovered a tea bush beneath the Guan Yin rock in Xiping. He later visited the Qianlong Emperor during his sixth year of rule, and offered some of the tea as a gift.
It is said that the emperor was impressed by the flavor of the tea and inquired about it’s origins. It was given the name Guan Yin due to it being found beneath the Guan Yin rock.
It’s so fun to read about the stories and legends behind all of these various tea strains!