Today Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy or Iron Boddhisatva of Mercy, is listed in the top ten teas of China list. It is prevalent both in Taiwan and China, although the processing methods vary slightly.
For sure, when entering a tea shop in these countries, you are bound to see Tie Guan Yin on the menu. Even cafes in the West often list Iron Goddess as their oolong tea option. Production styles vary heavily. While in Taiwan Tie Guan Yin is known for its dark, heavily roasted taste, in China Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea producers, in particular, tend to stick to a light, floral roast.
Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea Production
Picking. Anxi Tie Guan Yin is picked at later dates than other tea types, and in the afternoon (most tea varieties are picked in the morning). The robust tea leaves are given time to mature, and the buds open slightly, allowing more fragrance.
Withering. The leaves are then withered outside for 30 minutes, then inside for another 7 hours. During the withering, the leaves get shaken four times for 90 mins, each time.
Tieguanyin’s unique shaking process breaks down the cells and oxidizes the edges, making the tea more flavorful. You can tell a top quality Tieguanyin by its leaves, which have red rims around the edges.
Firing. The tea is fired in batches.
The oolong tea is fired in large metal woks atop of a wood-fire stove.
Rolling. The tea leaves are rolled a total of 3 times for 30 minutes each. Rolling is a crucial step in Tie Guan Yin production. This process allows for the oils to rise to the leaf’s surface.
Roasting. The rolled tea leaves are roasted, the roasting time will vary with farmer and builds the unique character of any particular Tie Guan Yin.
Roasting recipes are top secret and carefully treasured by the farmers, their family members, and but a few successors.
Anxi is the original birthplace of Tie Guan Yin. There, tea farming has existed for over 1000 years.
Tie Guan Yin Tea Legend
Some legends surround the name — Iron Goddess of Mercy. The Goddess of Mercy, or Guanyin, is a well-known bodhisattva of the Buddhist world.
One legend states that many centuries ago, there was a poor farmer who tended to a rather run-down Guanyin temple. One day the bodhisattva came to him in his dream. There, she told him to look into a cave upon waking, and he will find a treasure worth sharing. So he did and found a tiny tea tree which he planted and carefully tended to. The tea tree grew big and tall and yielded an especially delicious type of tea. He called the tea Tie Guan Yin and shared it with his community, continuing to live a prosperous life and every day caring for the temple and the Goddess which inhabits it. True or not, many still believe that some of these very first ancient tea trees grow in the Anxi region.
Anxi Tie Guan Yin vs. Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin
Anxi Tie Guan Yin resembles a green tea, more so than a dark oolong. Indeed, it is of the light oolong category. The tea leaves are only lightly oxidized. In result, the tea remains fresh with a pleasant floral aroma.
Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin, on the other hand, is traditionally heavily roasted. The tea liquid is dark and produces an intense baked, yet sweet flavor. Tie Guan Yin is one of the top teas sold in Taiwan.
According to a recent survey, Tie Guan Yin is the number 1 favored tea across China.