Dragonwell has a certain mystique, an appeal that stretches across the ages from Emperor Qianlong to today. To visit the village of Dragonwell is to connect with a place rich in history- marked with shrines commemorating the visits of emperors and poets.
This Spring, we were lucky enough to visit Li Xiaoping right before Qing Ming festival. She made time to share tea and stories with us, even with the critical spring harvest underway. Li Xiaoping is excited to share her fresh spring pickings after a cool and mild growing season, which is producing tea that is thick and sweet even with smaller yields.
Li Xiaoping’s father was a nationally recognized tea taster who started training her from a young age to grow and process tea to perfection. Her family is lucky enough to have an incredible plot of land on the Shi Feng mountainside overlooking the “Shi Ba Ke,” the eighteen tea bushes recognized by emperor Qianlong on his first visit to the area. Her tea grows at an even higher elevation than the “emperor’s” tea, a fact she is proud to point out.
Shi Feng – translated as “Lion’s Peak” – refers to a specific set of peaks above Dragonwell village in Zhejiang. A combination of elements in this region creates a beautiful microclimate that makes for a perfect tea. The rocky, mineral rich soil is perfect for water retention and flavor; the mountain spring gives the tea a remarkable sweetness, and the curves of the mountain peaks keep Shi Feng colder than surrounding mountainsides or slopes that directly face the city of Hangzhou on the northern side of West Lake (Xihu). Shi Feng Dragonwell is only a few miles from the West Lake growing area, but it is truly worlds apart in the quality and flavor of tea that it yields.
The Shi Feng area has been recoginzed by the Chinese government as a national treasure. Recently, the government has become involved in mandating organic-only cultivation for the entire area– a practice the Li Family has followed for generations. The new mandate helps maintain a purity for the entire watershed and raises the quality of all true Shi Feng Dragonwell.
Li Xiaoping picks tea with her family for only a few weeks of spring. This means a preciously small yeild, especially in years with a colder spring like this one.
Mrs. Li and her husband can only finish four to five pounds of tea a day before the Qing Ming festival and only about ten pounds a day after Qing Ming, making an annual total yield of under three hundred pounds.
Mrs. Li sets aside a substantial amount of her and her family’s labor to share with us because she wants there to be at least one true Shi Feng Dragonwell available to people outside of China.
She talks about how much it breaks her heart to see so much fake and low quality tea sold as true Dragonwell these days. For her, this is about upholding the reputation of her village and the unique tea it produces. We are incredibly lucky to be entrusted with representing her family and offering the preciously small harvest that she can make available.
Three generations of the Li Family: grandmother, daughter, & granddaughter
The cold weather this year pushed all picking about a week later than last year, but the results are an incredibly thick and sweet brew resulting from the slower growth of buds. We are excited to offer a limited quantity of both 1st Picking Dragonwell and Mrs Li’s Classic Dragonwell.
We hope you enjoy this year’s harvest as much as we did sipping it with Li Xiaoping overlooking her tea fields on the peaks of Shi Feng!
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