Why is Iron Goddess of Mercy China’s Favorite Oolong Tea?

When it comes to green tea, we think of Japan and China. When it comes to black tea most people probably think of India and Sri Lanka, but China also has a lot of black tea. In fact they have my favorite variety, called Golden Monkey tea. When it comes to white tea there’s only China. When it comes to oolong tea, the same is true. While white tea is becoming more well known, it is still difficult to find. For that reason, I feel that wulong tea is the most Chinese of all the teas. It is the quintessential Chinese tea.

Loose leaf tie guan yin tea

Iron Goddess of Mercy tea leaves

So obviously, when I went to China, high on my list of things to do was trying oolong tea. Now, I am fully aware of white tea and absolutely love it, so that was high on my list, too. Which one of these two do you think was easier? It was the oolong tea. By far.

In three years in China I have not yet seen white tea sold in a regular store. You have to go to specialty shops and really search for it. It is not generally sold, but I suppose that is because white tea is so distinguished and is always very high quality. The teas you find in the supermarket aren’t generally that great, although compared to what you would buy in the West, the quality is actually exceptionally high. And since the prices are low, they make great bargains. In fact, I buy most of my tees from supermarkets. This includes big chains like Walmart. It sounds strange, but they actually have great bargains on teas because they are so cheap.

Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that I made my first purchase of Wulong Tea at Walmart. I also made my second and my third purchase of oolong tea at Walmart. When I buy tea at Walmart, I always start with the cheapest I can find, just to give it a try. It’s usually not very good and I never buy it again. But once or twice I have found a great bargain this way. That did not work out with oolong tea.

Iron Goddess of Mercy tea leaves

Ti Kuan tea leaves close up

Surprisingly, to me at least, the one variety I found in every store in China is Iron Goddess of Mercy tea. I don’t know why but this seems to be the most popular variety in China. Since I was seeing it everywhere, this was my first purchase. I bought the cheapest one they had. It was absolutely horrible. I figured this was because I bought the cheapest, so I bought a more expensive one. It was slightly better, but still not something I would ever buy again.

A month or two after that first purchase, a coworker of mine, friendly old Chinese man, let me try some of his Tie Guan Yin. He had a very expensive variety and he assured me once I’ve had it, I would change my mind about Ti Kuan. It’s true, his tea was much better and it was actually enjoyable, but it was certainly not worth the money. I have had very cheap green teas that tasted so much better than this very expensive iron goddess tea.

For those who don’t know, this variety of oolong tea is barely oxidized at all. It is very, very close to a green tea. The problem is, green tea simply tastes better. I don’t understand the popularity of this variety of tea in China. Since that time, I have bought many oolong teas, but never again an iron goddess. My favorite so far was Big Red Robe tea, but that is probably not a surprise, given its high price and its status as one of the most distinguished teas of all.

If you ever make it to China I highly recommend you try some Tie Guan Yin for yourself. Chances are you won’t like it, but so many Chinese people seem to enjoy it, maybe you will, too. I would be very curious to know, actually. I want to know if it’s just me, if I simply don’t enjoy that taste, or if it’s just something that’s uniquely Chinese and all Westerners don’t like the taste of this tea.

For more on Tie Guan Yin: http://www.holymtn.com/tea/kwanyin.htm


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