It says a lot about a tea when so many Teaheads cite Iron Goddess (Tie Guan Yin) as THE gateway tea that opened their eyes to the wonders of true tea. I myself had my first tea revelation tasting a high-quality Iron Goddess.
This is a very famous Chinese tea and it is in huge demand which inevitably means that it is produced in large quantities with big differences in quality and styles.
Our Qing Xiang Tie Guan Yin is true Anxi Iron Goddess made in the modern Light Qing Xiang style
This is an ancient tea whose first claim to fame was that it was rumoured to be loved by Emperor Qian Long (18th Century). There are a couple of origin stories for this tea. One is that a farmer passed a rundown temple of Guanyin (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva) and took it upon himself to tidy the temple. As a reward, was given a vision in his dream by Guanyin which led him to find a tea plant growing in a cave behind the temple.
The other story involves a scholar who discovered the tea plant by Guanyin rock and presented the resulting tea to Emperor Qian Long who declared that it has the weight of iron and the appearance of Guan Yin.
The historic origin of Tie Guan Yin is Anxi county in Fujian which is split into Inner and Outer mountain villages. Much of the Tie Guan Yin on the market is not actually from Anxi but from nearby Zhang Zhou with huge tea plantations. This is not surprising the massive demand for this tea but Anxi tea is generally higher quality.
Tie Guan Yin is the name of the preferred variety of tea plant used in most Iron Goddess although there are others which are used to make this type of tea (Ben Shan, Mao Xie, Huang Dan and others).
Tie Guan Yin follows a fairly standard picking and processing for Oolongs (pluck, wither, cool, shake, oxidise, roll, dry, refine and roast) but there are a couple of main different styles of Iron Goddess.
Traditional Tie Guan Yin (Chuan Tong) is oxidised more and at room temperature, whereas the more modern light Tie Guan Yin (Qing Xiang) borrows the more Taiwanese approach of cold room withering and lower oxidation.
This is why modern Tie Guan Yin tends to have a more flowery and rich aroma compared with the thicker texture traditional tea.
There are many more intricate definitions of the different types of Tie Guan Yin but that's the subject of a separate blog or video!