Hangzhou Global Tour: Day seven
Tea is such an integral part of Chinese culture that it flows as abundantly as the waters of the Grand Canal. It is said that the hotter the tea, the more the person serving it likes you, because you’ll be forced to stay longer while it cools to a temperate level. There is no better tea grown in the world than in Hangzhou’s West Lake region, which is know for the world famous, Longjing tea, also know as Dragon Well Tea (literal translation).
Longjing tea history can date back over 1200 years to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Thanks to Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Longjing tea has earned an impeccable reputation. The legend has it that the Emperor Qianlong visited Lion Peak Mountain during his Hangzhou travels, and he saw some ladies picking tea at the foot of the mountain. He was so interested in their movements that he decided to have a go himself. While picking the tea, he received news that his mother was ill, so he collected some of the leaves and placed them in his sleeve and left Hangzhou for Beijing. He immediately visited his mother upon his return to Beijing, and Empress Dowager smelled the fragrance of the leaves from his sleeves and wanted to have a taste. Emperor Qianlong ordered tea to be brewed for her, and after drinking it she found herself completely refreshed, and went on to exclaim that the tea was the remedy for all illness. From then on, Shifeng Longjing tea was known as the tribute tea grown especially for Empress Dowager.
Following in the footsteps of Emperor Qianlong, the family ambassadors took an early morning trip to one of the tea fields to get some firsthand knowledge of the sought after Longjing tea, which is a pan roasted green tea that comes in six grades. From superior to grade five, which is the least desirable. There is a Longjing Tea for every palate and budget. The best (superior grade) Longjing is harvested in the spring months when the growth cycle is at its pinnacle. You see, in the summer months the tea grows too fast and its nutrients are spread throughout the larger leaves, which diminishes the flavor and quality. In the fall, the leaves do not grow fast enough, and in the winter not at all.
I always had the impression that tea had a shelf life, that over time it would lose it’s flavor and potency, but that theory I learned is not entirely true. For the higher grade Longjing, the tea is compacted and can be stored and aged for decades, making it highly valuable and prized—much like a vintage case of fine red wine.
Water is the mother of tea, a teapot its father, and fire the teacher. ~Chinese Proverb
After the tea field experience we headed to the Wensli Silk Cultural Museum, which was built and curated by the Wensli Company, who is known for producing the best silk in the world for top clothing designers. At the museum we saw an assortment of silk items, from very intricate ceremonial clothing, to silk products and silk artwork.
Some of the artwork is so detailed that it took artists three years to create a single piece. I saw one artist at work and was amazed at how painstaking the process is. The patience and dedication these artists have for their craft is quite impressive.
Wensli is so revered for producing the best quality silk that they have been asked to work with top garment makers to create clothing for participants in the grandest of events, such as the Beijing Olympics. After touring their museum, I can attest that their work is simply stunning. The museum facility is so well curated and the displays are simply stunning. They even have a 10 minute interactive presentation that takes visitors on an educational tour of the Silk Road, which is also quite impressive. Wensli seems to be what Longjing is to tea, the best-of-the-best and a shinning start of excellence for the city of Hangzhou.