There’s one thing a few good oxymoron. This one— Ti Kuan Yin, “Iron Goddess of Mercy”uniquely captures the complexities of what some tea-drinkers take into account to be the world’s best-known and best-loved Oolong.

In English, “iron” wouldn’t be a phrase related to the standard of mercy. Even if we take into account the juxtaposition of phrases within the context of the Chinese Wu Xing, or Five Phases recognized within the Chinese cosmos—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water—Metal is the least yielding, the least merciful. As far as goddesses go, “iron” suggests extra of a fierce, Valkyrie warrior-woman versus the bodhissatva Kuan Yin, who hears the cry of the world, eases all struggling, and dries each tear together with her never-ending compassion.

This seeming contradiction is what begins the revealing of this tea. Like so many depictions of Feminine Divinity throughout all cultures, this Chinese Oolong reveals itself in a sequence of refined, teasing unveilings.

The optimum steeping temperature for Ti Kuan Yin is 185 – 206 F, for 3 – 5 minutes. I took the center means for the primary steep, bringing the cup to my lips at 4 minutes. Bliss. I discovered there to be an elusive waft of grain within the first steep, with a pristine, fruit-blossom aroma.

As an Oolong, this tea is semi-oxidized, providing a number of the feeling of each inexperienced and black teas. The second steep brought a much less floral, nut-like, extra roast-y, and deeply soothing word, as if the tea had actually ripened between steeps. Mistakenly pondering that the tea would weaken in worth, my second steep was six and a half minutes. This second brew was a clear amber, full, with no hint of “iron”, or any bitterness.

A variety of historic legends give this tea her title, one involving an iron statue of Kuan Yin who gave the reward of the tea-plant to a humble farmer who cared for her uncared for shrine. As with ourselves, rediscovering and honoring life’s sacred locations—sweeping out the twigs and dirt—all the time yields revelation.

I particularly loved this tea because the climate in Los Angeles moved from sensible and scorching to a cold rain. According to the Chinese custom, Metal is in truth within the fourth place of the Five Phases, related to Autumn, and closure.

– Victoria Thomas

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