For many millennia and from the earliest times of recorded history in China, TEA has been regarded and revered as a special source of health giving goodness and social pleasure bestowed on mankind by the generosity and love of Mother Earth.
The whole process and preparation of tea and the art of boiling and steeping the brew, is part of a ceremonial sharing of wellbeing, respect and honor between host and guests. So every personal tea brewing act becomes a spiritual experience that brings mankind and nature together. As we cherish and savor the tea, we become united as brothers and sisters…Sons and Daughters of Mother Nature. In this special moment, joined and endowed by the fusion of the brew…we become…”CHILDREN OF THE DRAGON”.
Our story begins over 5,000 years ago. According to legend, in 2737 BC, Emperor SHEN NUNG a notably skilled ruler, scientist, scholar and patron of the arts, ruled China’s vast empire. His many farsighted edicts included the requirement that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day, while on a state visit to a distant part of his realm, he and the court stopped to rest. Accordingly, servants began boiling water for the royal court to drink. By chance, the wind blew dried leaves from a near by bush, into the boiling water and a brown substance was infused into the liquid. As a gifted herbalist and scientist the Emperor was interested in the newly blended concoction. He examined its properties and after sipping and tasting the brew…declared it to be…”MOST REFRESHING!” And so according to legend, believed to be an accurate account by modern day scholars, the story of “TEA GLORIOUS TEA” was created.
The first book on TEA…the CHA CHING, was written during the Song Dynasty by author Lu Yu, the Sage of Tea, (around 780 AD.) It was actually comprised of three vast volumes and covered the entire spectrum of tea growing, production and brewing. These extensively illustrated works were adopted by the Royal Court as THE national definitive compendium on the entire spectrum of Tea. After 1200 years, the CHA CHING remains an important reference book and master work on the subject, right up to modern times.
The power and superiority of the more modern Maritime Silk Road lay in the greatly increased speed, safety and economy achieved by transporting merchandise by ship compared with the centuries old, slow and hazardous, overland routes. As China’s traders realized the huge appetite of world markets’ for tea, as well as silk and porcelain… they built impressive fleets of advanced, expertly designed merchant ships and set sail from important and rich east China ports like Quangzhou and Ningbo.
Then in 1405 to 1433, famed Chinese Admiral “Zhang He” made the first of 7 historic trading voyages, navigating his giant commercial fleets to South East Asia, Africa, Arabia and India. But, long, long before the sailing ships…horses and camels dominated the slow and perilous commercial land routes west, through China’s arid and barren Gansu Province to markets in Arabia and even Europe…So in very ancient times, the mysterious romance of the Silk Road was born.
Tea has always been a vital part of China’s economy. Back in the “Good Old Days” of the Great Wall it was actually used as money! Black Tea was formed into bricks and carried by traders as the caravans ventured west. At that time, a brick of Black Tea was as precious as gold and as important an international currency as the US Dollar is today.
This tranquil scene of beautiful sand dunes can be quite deceiving. Any time now, drifting sands and blowing sandstorms from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts can bury a stalled car or stranded traveler in less than thirty minutes. That’s why, this has been called “The Land of Death,” for as long as anyone can remember! Fact! Eight out of ten travelers who attempt to cross the desert on foot, dye. In Summer time, like today, temperatures climb into the mid 50 degree Celsius range. In winter, the bone chilling, biting cold wind, plunges temperatures down to lows of minus 20.
This place is Crescent Moon oasis, the most important oasis on the Silk Road AND looking very much today as it did 700 years ago when Marco Polo enjoyed his first cup of tea, HERE in China. At the height of the Silk Road…hundreds of thousands of tons of tea went west from here. Even today, outward bound by camel caravan, we are two perilous, dry weeks travel to the next oasis and thirst quenching water.
But that was yesterday and this is today. Several hundred kilometers south of the haunting splendor of the Gobi desert lies the lovely lake side city of Hangzhou. It’s world famous for Long Jing Dragon well Tea AND was voted by my friend Marco Polo as the most beautiful city he had ever seen. Appropriately, now Hangzhou is a UNESCO, world heritage sight.
Caressed in the nurturing embrace of mother nature’s green and fertile arms, Long Jing village lies, like a jewel, in the picturesque valley below us. This is home, as it has been for more than a thousand years, to CHINA’S “GREEN GOLD,” Long Jing Dragon Well Tea!
Every one here in Long Jing village literally has a hand in green tea growing and production. Every family has its own small tea plantation and every home, its own special tea processing room and small tea boutique. For generations tea has connected people with nature. It’s as though they live here in perfect harmony with nature. Tea is their life!
Consistently high demand for this superb quality green tea, in China, Asia and now around the world has brought prosperity and a high standard of living to all Dragon Well Tea growing families in Long Jing.
THE DRIVE AND JOURNEY TO WUYI…But there’s much more to China’s Green Tea story and its potent health qualities as I discovered, driving the 200 kilometers from Hangzhou into the steep mountains of Wuyi. The incredible value of annual Green Tea production from this heartland of China’s ecologically pure, mountainside terraced plantations, is around US$25,000,000 per year. That’s an impressive 30% of China’s total tea output.
I never realized, until I arrived here in the mountains of Wuyi and chatted to the local growers, that the tea plant is a close relative of the Privet Hedge Bush found in many western gardens. It has smooth shiny green leaves and is one of those anomalies of the plant world… a deciduous, leaf bearing evergreen called “Camellia Sinensis.”
Each of these skilled tea pickers can harvest 600 grams of tea a day. The pickers, mostly women, gather a total of 6000 metric tons of organic green teas annually. Their efforts, rain or shine, bring 200,000,000 Yuan to the local and national economy, every year!
Everyday from spring through summer as the late afternoon sun begins to dip towards the west, tea pickers gather high up on the mountain sides to have their daily harvest of ripened leaves weighed and paid for by factory buyers. The freshly picked leaves are immediately sent down to factories just like this one scattered in the valleys below the plantations. Right away, as day turns to night, the careful work of processing the fresh leaves into packaged tea begins and is rigorously supervised and timed at every stage of the operation.
Step One: All Green Tea buds are laid out for quality examination and to initiate the start of the drying process.
Step Two: Technicians hand rub the semi dried buds, lightly frying them in large wok sized, heated cauldrons. A very small measure of natural wax is added to ensure the goodness is sealed into the leaves.
Step Three: Now the crisply succulent, tender leaves, are moved into a hopper sized dryer with a rotating drum for a specific period of time at a carefully controlled temperature for final processing and drying, prior to being packaged.
Though this all seems simple and straight forward the special techniques and precision timing involved in Green Tea production make this least manipulated of teas, one of the most complex, whole food beverages produced.
Green Tea is rich in vitamins C. A. B. & P. as well as oligo elements, poly-phenols and tooth protecting fluoride. It has been found to contain anti inflammatory and anti depressant qualities.
Scientific studies found the principal active compound of Green Tea…GEGC…Gallate Epigalla cotecol to be more effective than vitamin E against FREE REDICALS, the toxic molecules which occur in cellular aging.
Since Green Tea has the least amount of processing, is organic and has no preservatives, it should be consumed within one year of opening the vacuum packed and sealed container.
Wulong Tea has been grown in the mountains around this picture post card perfect town of ANXI, some say for over 1000 years. These exceptional teas have been a specialty of China since the Sung Dynasty…960 to 1279 AD. What makes them so highly prized is that they are Semi Fermented, partially oxidized teas. For me, the best way to describe Wulong Tea is to say it falls half way between Green Tea and Black Tea. But because it goes through a partial fermentation process…drinking the tea produces a wonderful zing like taste sensation that shakes up and delights the taste buds. The myriad precision techniques employed in creating and producing Wulong tea give it a breathtaking range of flavors, unique fragrances and liquor colors.
(CCTV-9 November 20, 2007)