Dragon Well, the caviar of teas.
Fan Shenghua, 58, is a master tea-maker in the West Lake area of Hangzhou, China. From his father and grandfather, he learned the traditional method of producing China’s finest green tea, Dragon Well, which is cultivated on hillsides around his home village.
Dragon Well, also known as Longjing tea, was granted the status of gong cha, imperial tea, by Emperor Kangxi, who ruled the Qing Dynasty from 1661 to 1722. The tea has a signature chestnut aroma and a complex, distinctly fresh flavor. Strictly speaking, it is grown only around West Lake on one of five peaks in Hangzhou.
Fan says his family has been making Dragon Well for a thousand years, and he’s hopeful that the next generation will carry on doing so, but he worries that the youngsters just aren’t interested.
Nothing about Dragon Well production is easy, and there are no short cuts. Pickers spend 12 hours a day gathering a mere two pounds of perfect leaves. Those are turned over to Fan, who uses his hands to “fry and dry” them in a giant wok. He follows 10 proscribed hand gestures to cook the tea, among them “hanging, wiping, shaking, ironing, and pushing.” Think of it as a ballet of sorts using only the hands.
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