by kate on August 15th, 2012
Tea is an integral part of Chinese history and culture and has become entwined with Chinese myth and folklore. Individual varieties are often assigned legendary origins in the localities where they are grown; these often vary from place to place and there are sometimes many different versions. Whilst browsing our website you may have often wondered how Iron Buddha or White Peony got their unusual names. So we have been delving into the depths of Chinese myth and folklore to discover the legendary origins and meanings behind the names of Iron Buddha, White Peony, Big Red Robe and Dragon Well tea. Here are some (rather condensed) versions of the myths.
A chief from the Western Han Dynasty called Mao Yi was tired of the corruption in the local government; He left the town with his elderly mother and took her to live in the isolated mountains. One harsh, cold winter his elderly mother became frail and ill. Mao Yi could find no medicine to cure her, then one night a grey haired immortal being appeared to him in a dream. The immortal told him that the only way his mother would be cured was if he boiled a carp in fresh tea. The Carp was easy to find; he broke the ice over the lake and fished one out, but Mao Yi had no chance of finding a leafy tea bush in the frozen mountains. Mao Yi was devastated and about to give up, when the 18 peonies before him suddenly grew into tea bushes with buds like white peonies. Mao Yi completed his task and fed his medicine to his mother who was swiftly cured. From that day on, the tea grown in that region was named after the peony plants.
Tie Guan Yin is associated with the Chinese Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. According to one legend, a kind tea farmer took care of the goddess’ run-down temple in Anxi country in the Fujian province of China; in return she came to him in a dream and told him the location of some ‘treasure’ in a cave behind her temple, he found a single tea plant which he then cultivated and shared the cuttings with his neighbours who all began to grow this unique tea. The region then became famous for Iron Buddha tea, which is now one of the most popular oolongs in China.
During the Ming Dynasty one of the Emperors was travelling in the Wuyi Mountains with his mother, who fell gravely ill but was miraculously cured after drinking Da Hong Pao tea from four special bushes which were growing on a rocky cliff; the Emperor was so grateful that he sent the trees a gift: rolls and rolls of rare and expensive red cloth that were to cover the tea trees during the cold winter to protect them from dying. There are 4 bushes still preserved which are over a thousand years old, these are said to be the original bushes from the legend; every year a small amount of tea is harvested from the bushes which has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dragon Well is probably the most famous and best loved of Chinese teas. Most Legends agree that the tea is named after a well in Dragon Well Village in Zhejiang Province. One such legend tells that the so called ‘dragon well’ was named because a friendly dragon lived in the well who was able to control the weather and made sure that the villagers always had enough rain to grow their crops.
Look out for part two of our Tea Myths series, coming soon….