Being a bit of a movie buff, I tend to watch those black and white classics, and recently caught a very interesting tea connection in one of them. The movie Three Strangers had a rather oblique reference to something that lovers of fine teas would recognize quite readily.

Three steepings from the same Ti Kuan Yin tea leaves.

Three steepings from the same Ti Kuan Yin tea leaves.

The basic plot: A woman lures two strangers (both male) to her apartment to have them take part in a ritual. They all have to wish before a Chinese idol for the same thing, in this case it is to win a lottery. They then go their separate ways until the time for the lottery (actually, it’s a horse race but is called a lottery in the movie). During this interim period, the woman’s estranged husband who had left her comes back to ask for a divorce which she refuses to give, the first male stranger who is an estate attorney discovers that he is in deep water due to his squandering of a client’s estate and if found out will be ruined, and the second male stranger is a hood who was implicated in the murder of a night watchman and is hiding out from the police. By the time the horse race is run, the woman has managed to chase away the woman her husband was leaving her to marry, the estate attorney was in an extreme state of desperation, and the hood was cleared of all charges in the murder. There is a climatic scene that I won’t spoil for you (and my apologies if I’ve said too much already) where that Chinese idol is treated in a most disrespectful manner. All in all a quirky and enjoyable movie.

And just who was this Chinese idol? None other than Kwan Yin (also spelled Kuan Yin). Do you see the tea connection? Read on.

Kwan Yin is better known as the “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” that is, the goddess who told the farmer to take the tea plant growing outside her temple and nurture it to make fine tea. Which he did.

Today, Ti Kwan Yin oolong is revered by tea drinkers young and old. Delivering a bit more body than green tea, Oolongs are semi-fermented and have a unique flavor. Also unlike green tea, Oolongs are not to be picked too early, or at too tender of a stage, and then produced immediately. Tea leaves destined to be used for Oolongs are wilted in the direct sun and are then shaken in tubular bamboo baskets to bruise the edges of the leaves – therefore, the edges oxidize faster than the center. After 15-25 minutes, the tea is fired, locking in that unique flavor.

For the best brew, Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong should steep in water that has been brought to a light boil (165-190° F) for 1-3 minutes. This premium grade tea can at first taste bitter, then sweet, and finishes with a fragrance that lingers on your palate. This tea is best enjoyed hot, and delivers a light cup with a pale green-yellow liquor.

Next time you’re watching one of those classic black-and-white movies, watch for the surprise tea reference. They pop up often when you least expect them. Enjoy!

See this comparison of several versions of this oolong.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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