Hangzhou Travel Guide
Hangzhou's West Lake district in Zhejiang province is one of the birthplaces of Chinese green tea. Tea was accidentally discovered by Emperor Shen Nung (aka the Shennong, Yan Emperor or "Emperor of the five grains") over 5,000 years ago, when it was found to be an antidote against the poisonous effects of some herbal medicines.
The Dragon Well Tea Plantation is in the Dragon Well Village, which locates at the bottom of the mountains near the West Lake. The dragon well tea produced in Shifeng Mountain is the best renowned in the world. At the bottom of the mountain, there is a Hugong Temple, in front of which have 18 imperial tea trees. The 18 imperial tea trees are the most famous attraction in the Dragon Well Village.
About the 18 imperial tea trees, there is a legend. During the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor Qianlong liked travelling around. When he took the sixth trip to the south of China, he came to Hangzhou. After visiting the beautiful West Lake, he wanted to see his favorite tea. So the followers brought him to Shifeng Mountain. Seeing the grand mountain, the clear dragon well, the green tea plantation, the Emperor was inebriated deeply. So he imitated the women to pick tea leaves in front of the Hugong Temple when suddenly he received an urgent message that his mother was very sick, so he stuck the tea leaves in his sleeve and flew back to Beijing to be with her. He had forgotten all about the tea leaves in his sleeve and when he was talking with his mother she asked him what the smell was. He pulled out the leaves and brewed them. His mother got much better the next day. He was very impressed with the flavor and had 18 trees planted for tribute tea that would annually be sent to him. Soon, the Emperor Qianlong called the 18 trees in front of the Hugong Temple as the 18 imperial tea trees. The 18 Imperial Tea Trees are devoted to tea. Beyond the trees are a series of teahouses, tea pavilions, and a restaurant. They are all built in traditional Chinese style and surrounded by bamboo groves and trees. Higher up on the mountain are small tea pavilions for visitors to sit amongst tea trees and enjoy tea.
Dragon Well Tea is named after a well in the village where according to a legend that a dragon dwelled and ensured that it rained. The well is still there. The area surrounding the well has many buildings and pavilions in it also. There are meandering paths connecting them, and the area is sheltered by large trees and bamboo groves. It is a very lovely place. It is very deep and is still being fed by a natural spring. The well is surrounded by a small marble fence carved in the shape of clouds. Clouds are where dragons are supposed to traditionally dwell. It is amazing! Brewing tea with the dragon well is extremely fragrant!
The Dragon Well tea plants are in the Camellia plant family (Camellia sinensis), which has a fairly nondescript smell or taste when fresh. The tea leaves are picked from late March to early April, when the new leaves appear. Tea cultivation is a labor intensive business, as all picking is done by hand so that the young leaves are not damaged.
Tea leaves are pan-dried immediately after picking to prevent oxidation and bacterial growth. They then are rolled by hand to squeeze out excess moisture and to release flavor enzymes. The leaves are finally fired in large driers and packed.
The pan-drying or "pan-firing" method of drying tea leaves requires skill, as a temperature must be maintained that will have the best results for the size, tenderness, and volume of the tea leaves.
When properly brewed, the tea will turn a light green color and have a delicate, herbaceous, and somewhat tangy flavor. The green color is maintained by letting the boiling water cool to the correct brewing temperature (around 75 degrees Celsius) so as not to destroy the natural chlorophyl in the tea.
The atmosphere is very wonderful and peaceful. The tea houses, tea pavilions, and the restaurant are beautifully placed amongst bamboo groves and tea trees. The workers all wear traditional style clothing and are very good at doing Gongfu Cha. It looked like a beautiful Chinese garden devoted to tea. So if you have a chance to come to Hangzhou, do not miss the Dragon Well Tea Plantation!