In the hills surrounding Hangzhou’s infamous West Lake grows the famous Dragon Well green tea. Chinese emperors and poets have praised it for centuries. Many people believe it can fight viruses, control high blood pressure and prevent cancer. (I guess the clinical trials are still out on that one.)
One legend says a monk asked a dragon to help end a drought that threatened the tea crops. The dragon granted him a spring that never dried out, hence the name Dragon Well.
The tea is picked by hand, starting at the end of March and through October. Then the distinctive flat leaves are roasted by hand in tea-cauldrons heated to 25 degrees Celsius. Dragon Well is prized for its fresh, unique, mellow taste. I’m no connoisseur but it was nice.
Leaves picked just before a festival on April 5 are the most valued. Those used to be reserved for the emperor’s court. You can take home a kilogram of the highest grade for about $140 Can.
The visit to the plantation includes a live infomerical from a very persuasive saleswoman, extolling the health benefits of Dragon Well, while her assistants serve you their signature tea in clear glasses. For the money they’re raking in on tea leaves, they could at least trot out mugs with handles.
Dragon Well exports its lesser grade tea to two chains in North America. The top grade is reserved for selling locally.