Tea Time Tale: Some Chinese Legends & Symbols

Many of you know that China is the home of tea. In fact, at one point in time virtually all tea drunk world-wide came from China. Eventually, growing tea expanded to northern India and is now is a wide variety of countries. But as the home of tea, China deserves a bit of special acknowledgement, especially their legends related to tea. We’ll start with one of the best known: Guanyin, also called The Goddess of Mercy (Compassion). (The legend of Shen Nong has been covered quite a bit in this blog already, so we shall omit it here and go to some you might not know about.)

Guanyin Iron Goddess of Mercy (Bodhisattva version) (Stock image)
Guanyin Iron Goddess of Mercy (Bodhisattva version) (Stock image)

Guanyin (Kwan Yin, Kuan Yin)

The goddess Guanyin, also known in English as the Mercy Goddess or Goddess of Mercy, is a bodhisattva. That means she has attained enlightenment yet chose not to enter nirvana until all beings on Earth have also attained enlightenment. She is also revered by Chinese Taoists as an immortal. In Chinese art, Guanyin is often depicted either alone, standing atop a dragon, accompanied by a white parrot, flanked by two children, or flanked by two warriors. Some Buddhists believe that when one of their adherents departs from this world, they are placed by Guanyin in the heart of a lotus, and then sent to the western pure land of Sukhāvatī. So she is sometimes shown standing on a lotus blossom (the traditional symbol of Buddha).

A goddess tea: Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong Tea – A distinctive light cup with hints of orchid in the flavor. Premium grade, at first bitter, then sweet, and finishes with a fragrance that lingers on your palate.


Dragons show up a lot in Chinese legends and symbols. They are supposed to be able to transform themselves and so represent adaptability. But they also represent power, good luck, the natural world, and rule of the seas and skies. If they have 5 toes/claws, they become the emperor’s sacred symbol of imperial power and dignity and are one of the 12 Symbols of Sovereignty. The dragon is also one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In ancient China, dragons were thought live in the mountains or in the seas and to speed across the sky with divine power. They can generally symbolize benevolence, prosperity, longevity, and the renewal of life.

A dragon tea: Nine Bend Black Dragon Tea – Full-bodied with burgundy depth and delightful oaky notes. One of the finest examples of a Chinese black tea available on the market and considered to be one of the luckiest teas in all of Asia.

Monkeys Picking Tea

Monkey-picked tea is one of those tales told to gullible outsiders. Or is it? Some swear that it’s true. The monkey is certainly an important part of Chinese legends and symbols and is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. It is also supposed to drive away evil spirits and can bring good fortune in officialdom. The picture of a monkey on a horse is a visual pun for the wish for an immediate promotion in official rank. The Monkey King was a fictional character in a Ming Dynasty novel (“Journey to the West”). The legend was part of the movie The Forbidden Kingdom, featuring martial arts movie legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

Jet Li as the Monkey King (via Yahoo! Images)
Jet Li as the Monkey King (via Yahoo! Images)

A monkey tea: White Monkey Paw Green Tea – Very delicate with an intense full green tea flavor. Made from the top two leaves and the bud of new season growth (late March /early April) that are gently and gingerly steamed and dried for an exquisite hand-made green tea. The dry leaf appearance of these teas is said to resemble a monkey paw.

The Oxherd and the Weaver Girl

The cowherd, Niulang was forced to leave home with only an old cow/ox (a former god sent to earth as punishment) for company. He met Zhinu, a beautiful fairy, while she was taking a bath on earth. They fell in love, married, had a son and daughter, and led a happy life. However, Zhinu was eventually taken back to heaven. The cow/ox said to make shoes from his hide and that these would take Niulang and his children to heaven. Zhinu’s mother was enraged and created the Milky Way to keep them apart, but magpies formed a bridge across it. After that, they were allowed to meet once a year on the 7th night of the 7th month (per the Chinese lunar calendar).

A love tea: Allegra Jasmine Burst Flowering Green Tea – Created as a tribute to the great cultural awakening of the Song Dynasty in China. A man, perhaps while sitting under a sweetly smelling jasmine tree, came up with the idea of scenting tea with the blossoms. This version delivers an intensely delicate infusion that fills the mouth with a bright jasmine character, and pale, grassy notes with a hint of sweet light honey. A wonderful sipping tea.

Wealth pots

These are symbols of good luck and wealth. Fill them with money and place them in the inner wealth corner of your house – southeast. Personally, we think that a pot full of tasty tea set on any corner of the table (or better yet in the middle to avoid any chance of it getting bumped off by elbows, etc.) is wealth indeed.

A wealth tea: Peony White Needle White Tea – A delicate lingering fragrance and a fresh mellow sweet taste with no astringency or grassy flavor. A clean taste faintly reminiscent of fresh apples with a refreshing and lingering flavor.

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

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