Ms. Lee takes us to see the Dragon Well
Today we visited with Ms. Lee, a friend of our teacher. She's a farmer, and a little more than a farmer; she’s also a judge of sorts. There is no formal tea competition for Dragon Well tea, nor are there names for the different grades of Dragon Well so you need an "official taster” or authenticator to tell you exactly what you’re drinking, where it was grown and what day it was picked. The day it was picked is the most important discerning factor in judging the commercial value of a Dragon Well tea to most farmers. I’d guess if China had the Japanese version of a Living Treasure she’s well on her way to becoming one. Today, and more importantly in years to come, she will be one of very few people who will be able to connect the rest of us to the tradition of enjoying real Dragon Well tea.
We started at her tea shop in a commercial district of Hangzhou at 9 am. She arrived in town to renew her business license, then she and her son then drove us outside the city and I was surprised at how close we were to important tea growing areas. About 15 minutes later we arrived at Long Jing Village to see the 18 famous Shi Fung Long Jing shrubs that Qian Long drank. To make a long legend short: Qian Long was an emperor from a few years back who while visiting the countryside grew tired and stopped at a temple to rest where he was served a lovely tea. "What tea is this?" he asked the monk. The monk, knowing he was serving the emperor replied: "Long (literally, Dragon, and also the emperor’s last name) Jing (from well, or the spring where the water came from.)" Long Jing. Liking the tea, the Emperor requested annual donations of this tea to be made to him.
We walked further up and saw the hills of Shi Feng (Lion’s peak.) This is the highest part of the mountain, and it’s easy to see the steep terraces give high mountain tea.
The air is amazingly clean up here. It’s sweet and fresh and a gentle breeze rolls in from time to time to take any edge of any heat that might start to build up. The views are amazing from here and everywhere you look it is lush and green.
We drove a little further down to Mei Jia Wu and there we looked at two varietals. We saw the traditional varietal and a new Mei Jia Wu Dragonwell varietal called #43. Number 43 is an important introduction to the tea family because this plant blooms 2 weeks earlier than traditional Mei Jia Wu, meaning that in a couple years when the tea bushes reach their maturity (5 years) and production really begins, this will be one of the first Dragon well teas to market. Yes, but how does it taste? I asked. #43 is more fragrant but the traditional varietal has more body, so I guess we’ll see soon enough if the demand for tea can create a first-to-market tea that still tastes good. That’s going to depend a lot on soil and processing and a bit of luck. Later that afternoon we were treated to lunch by our host where we had a chance to sit down and ask her questions about Dragon Well tea and its production. I’ll detail that conversation in my next post.