Chinese tea is the stuff of legends. A combination of age old traditions and Chinese penchant for hyperbole plus the plethora of Chinese myths handed down the generations conspired to provide literally thousands of tales for teas across different provinces in China. Where it may not be apparent for all types- for example the Silver Needles tea, you would be right in guessing the name came from its appearance. When names like Big Red Robe, Iron Goddess and Monkey Stalwart come into play, you know there MUST be a legend waiting to be told.
How the Big Red Robe got its name
Legend has it, once upon a time a scholar was rushing to the capital for the Imperial Examination. On the way, he passed by Mt Wuyi and fell ill there. An old monk brought him into the temple and among other acts of hospitality, brewed him a bowl of tea.
After the scholar recovered, he hurried on his way to the capital. As luck would have it, he came in first in the Imperial Examination as was eventually made the Prince Consort. Some time later, he returned to Mt Wuyi to express his gratitude to the old monk. The old monk then brought him to a cliff and showed him a few tall tea trees growing. The trees looked strong and sturdy and emitted a scarlet red glow under the sun.
The old monk then told the newly conferred Prince Consort- ‘last year you fell ill and was cured by the tea from this very tree.’ The scholar immediately requested to bring some to the Emperor.
As fate would have it, the Emperor took ill when the Prince Consort returned to the capital. The Prince Consort immediately told of his tale and presented the tea to the Emperor. Sure enough, the Emperor was cured and in his delight, he gave a red robe to the Prince Consort, ordering him to ‘present’ it to the tea trees as a sign of the Emperor’s favor.
The Prince Consort dutifully went back to Mt Wuyi and got a woodcutter to perform the duty for him. After the robe was removed, legend has it that trees emitted a red glow during harvest time as it was ‘dyed’ by the Royal Red Robe.
Thereafter, the locals started referring to that tree as the Big Red Robe or Big Scarlet Robe.
How the Iron Goddess got its name
Popular legend has it that around the 18th century, in Anxi district, there was an old farmer by the name of Wei Yin. He diligent grew tea and was a devout Buddhist, offering a Guanyin statue a cup of tea each morning. One night he had a dream, the goddess directed him to a particular tea tree amidst the rocks with leaves that emitted a captivating aroma.
The next morning he followed the path he took in the dream and true enough he found that tree. He subsequently transplanted the tree home and named it Iron Guanyin or Tieguanyin after the goddess who provided for him.
How the Monkey Stalwart got its name
Taiping Houkui gets its unique name from a legend that a harvester was searching for leaves when he smelled a heavenly fragrance. When he looked around, he saw some wild tea trees that were grown on the rocky cliffs, with no clear path in sight he was forced to abandon the leaves.
But he never quite gave up. Eventually he came trained some monkeys (hou 猴) to scale the perilous cliffs and harvest the leaves for him. When people tasted the tea, they praised it calling it 茶中之魁– A stalwart among teas. Thereafter the name Houkui猴魁 stuck.