Today, I was lucky enough to get to talk to Li Xiaoping (Mrs. Li) on the phone over a congee breakfast:
“Hello, David? What are you doing still in Shandong? You make me wait two years, and you aren’t going to make it to Longjing Village? We miss you here!”
“Sorry Mrs. Li, I am only here for a few more days. I am coming back in the spring so that I can help you pick tea, OK?”
“Alright, alight. Did you like the Dragonwell I sent you?”
“Mrs. Li, I think your tea opened many people’s eyes to what Dragonwell can be. It is the best I have ever had. Many customers wrote to me specifically to thank you for such a gift.”
“Aww. I am happy if you are happy. You know I saved fifteen pounds for you right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I knew people would want more, so I saved you the rest of the harvest. I hope you want it- I had to turn down some pretty wealth Hong Kong businessman to keep it for you.”
“Of course I will take it if you are willing to part with more tea! People will be so surprised to get more. I was nervous to ask you about it since I didn’t want to sound like I didn’t appreciate the tea you sent before.”
“Don’t be a stranger. Weiwei said that you loved the tea, and also told me that you were asking about the story of Dragonwell. Can I tell you a story?”
“So… there was a big imperial banquet up in heaven, and everyone was sipping heavenly tea, when a clumsy guest knocked over their glass, and it fell to earth. A steward was ordered to go find the glass. Such fine things don’t belong in the mortal realm. He searched high and low for many years until he came to Longjing village, whose name back then translated roughly to ‘the place where a light fell from the sky and life blossomed forth.’ He asked the villagers about the name, and they said that many years ago a glass fell from heaven, glowing brightly, and where it fell, tea trees spring forth. Sure enough, the glass was there, dirty, but still full of heavenly tea. He took the glass to clean it but accidentally spilled all the tea, feeding the tea trees. Embarrassed, he decided it was best to just leave the glass where it was and say that he had no luck finding it. The tea grew sweeter and sweeter, like its heavenly counterpart. Soon after, an earthquake sunk the cup into the ground where it became a well whose water was so sweet the dragon kings of the nearby springs would come to drink from it. The village took the name Longjing, or Dragon Well in honor of their glass from heaven.”
Mrs. Li went on to tell the story of the emperor who went in disguise to pick tea at the famed Dragonwell village, only to be summoned away as his mother grew ill at the palace. He stuffed the tea leaves he had picked in his pocket, where they dried out flat. His mother awoke at the smell of tea and ordered it brewed up. She was immediately cured by the heavenly leaves. Thereafter, Dragonwell tea was always flat pressed, and some was always given as tribute to the emperor.
Mrs. Li passes on her thanks to everyone, and is excited to know that her tea is being enjoyed. I hope that we can work with her again in the spring when I go back to China to see the new harvests come in. In the mean time, enjoy her generosity!
Read about our visit to Mrs. Li that following spring.