According to international sales figures, Ti Kuan Yin is the most popular Chinese Oolong worldwide. Like all Oolongs, Ti Kuan Yin is semi-fermented, meaning it falls roughly at the mid way point between black and green teas in terms of color, flavor, and intensity. Unlike other Oolongs, the process of making Ti Kuan Yin involves a longer baking, or drying process. As well, the raw leaf used to produce the tea is grown on a sub-varietal of Camellia sinensis. According to Fujian legend, this varietal was discovered by divine guidance hence its name, which loosely translates as Goddess of Mercy.
In the Buddhist tradition, the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, was known as a Boddhisatva, an enlightened being that has decided to stay on earth to bring others to enlightenment. Statues erected in her honor dot the Chinese countryside. As the ancient story goes, a tea maker in Fujian (where the style of tea originated) passed a statue beside a Buddhist temple that had been neglected and was overgrown with weeds. Not having enough money to fix the temple, he decided that at the very least he could afford to burn incense at the foot of the statue and sweep the yard on a regular basis.
After a few months of diligently making this simple offering to Guanyin, the Goddess appeared in a dream to thank him. She told him about a cave near his home that contained a very special tea plant no one had ever seen before. The next day the man searched the cave and sure enough, found the shoot of a unique tea bush. He cultivated the bush, and produced a crop of tea that he named after the goddess. Thanks to her benevolence, the tea maker sold more tea than ever before and went on to live a healthy and prosperous life.
As good as Ti Kuan Yin was, and still is, for increasing sales figures, Eastern research appears to indicate that it is equally as good for reducing another type of figure. We like to believe that it is due to the benevolence of the Goddess of Mercy that this tea is sometimes referred to as “slimming” oolong. (In her mercy she’s made it easier for people to shed a few pounds!)
Although Western research is still inconclusive, in China, Ti Kuan Yin is drunk with meals to help foster a feeling of satisfaction without the need to gorge oneself on the pleasures of the table. The cup is full bodied with deep almost winy notes that help fill the belly. Whatever you choose to believe about this tea two things are certain: one, it’s a delicately profound cup and two, it’s great with meals, particularly spicy ones. Pour a cup and give thanks to the Goddess of Mercy.