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ti kuan yin

A rather fine, fragrant variety of Oolong; one of my favourite kinds of tea, and the most popular Oolong in most of China.

According to legend, an iron (Ti) statue of the goddess of mercy Kuan Yin stood in a run-down temple in the Fujian province of China. A local farmer would pass the temple every day, and one day he took it upon himself to start cleaning it up out of respect for its resident goddess.

After he had been doing this for a while, Kuan Yin appeared to him in a dream and told him to look in a cave behind the temple to find a precious treasure he must share with others. When he looked as he was told, what he found was a sprout of a tea bush; so he looked after the bush, took cuttings from it and shared them with his tea-growing neighbours.

That special plant was the ancestor of all Ti Kuan Yin, and its progeny produce some of the world's finest Oolong to this day.

brewing oolong

In general Oolong tea should be made with water which is just shy of boiling, around 90? centigrade. The traditional Chinese method of making it is known as gongfu cha (工夫茶), where gongfu (the same as 'kung fu', just spelt differently) means roughly 'a lot of work' and 'cha' is 'tea'.?

In outline, this involves filling a very small teapot (traditionally made from unglazed yixing clay) about a third of the way to the top with dry leaves. The pot is first filled with hot water and immediately emptied, to 'wake' the tea and rinse off any impurities. It is then re-filled and left to steep for a very short time before being poured out into tiny cups for serving. It can then be refilled with hot water repeatedly; the flavour of each brew is subtly different from the last, and many people even prefer the second brew to the first.

Gongfu cha is sometimes described as 'the Chinese tea ceremony', and although it is nothing like as formalised as its famous Japanese counterpart, there is more to it than I have space for here; I encourage you to read furture about gongfu cha on everything

It is quite possible to brew Oolong much more lazily, without using a special teapot, almost as you would brew ordinary loose black tea - around a teaspoonful per cup, and a couple of minutes or so of infusing time - even using boiling water will not ruin it the way it does green tea, though it will make it worse.

the name of the tea

Oolong (also spelt Wulong, or Wu Long) is literally 'black dragon' tea, but they say the name originally had nothing to do with dragons; rather, it was named after its discoverer Wu Liang.

Wu Liang was out picking tea one day. After collecting a good load his eye was caught by a river deer. He stopped to slay the beast and when he got home he got distracted by the preparation of it, quite forgetting to dry out his precious tea.

By the time he remembered about it a day or so later, the tea had started to change colour - he was worried that it might have gone bad, but he didn't want to let good tea go to waste so he finished preparing it anyway.

When he got through with firing the tea he made himself a cup and found that he had stumbled on a taste sensation! His surprising new tea was mellow and aromatic, unlike anything he had tasted before.

Once he made the tea for his neighbours they all want to know how to make it, and he was happy to share the technique; before long Wu-Liang's tea was known throughout the province. Through Chinese Whispers it eventually came to be known as Wu-Long cha, or Black Dragon tea.

tea and health

Tea has occasionally got a bad rap for health in the past, thanks to its caffeine content, but this seems to have been largely misguided; on the weight of evidence available, tea does more good than harm to anyone without an especially good reason to avoid caffeine.

Tea contains significant levels of manganese and potassium, but its antioxidant flavonoids (a kind of polyphenol) are the main components thought to promote good health. There is strong - but still not conclusive - ?evidence that tea may help to fight certain kinds of cancer, and reduce some other signs of ageing through its antioxidant action.

There is very strong evidence that tea can help protect against heart disease, probably thanks to the same antioxidant chemicals, although other mechanisms may also be important.

There is also evidence that tea, in particular green and Oolong tea, can aid slimming; several studies have backed this up, although the strength?and indeed the existence of the effect is still disputed.

Tea also seems to be good for your teeth, probably partly thanks to its antibacterial properties, and at least one study has suggested that it can reduce flatulence.




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