Since the Quing Dynasty, when the Emperor Quianlong, the Dragon Emperor, claimed 18 trees in Longjian Village and decreed that no other might enjoy tea from these trees, the top tea in China has been produced by traditional methods.
The tiny buds and smallest leaves, known as "one bud one leaf" are so delicate that they must be plucked by fingers only. If the nail is used it will bruise the leaf, which will over oxidize during processing.
Extreme care must be taken to pluck the perfect leaf and a tea picker will only gather about one pound per day. That one pound will yield 3 ounces of finished tea. How many buds in a pound of Dragonwell? Estimates range from 50,000 to 60,000 buds.
And the pressure mounts because there isn't much time. The weather has to be just right, and the best Dragonwell must be picked before the season of Quingming arrives on April 5th.
How do these precious buds become the tea that we enjoy?
First, the leaves are withered in shallow bamboo baskets in the sunshine to remove some of the moisture so that the leaf is soft and dry. Since this is done outdoors and depends on the weather, this process can take from one hour to four hours.
Next comes the wok!
Pity the apprentice who spends three to five years learning how to crush, toss, separate and flatten the leaves in this hot iron pan to make the perfect tea. Crushing puts pressure on the leaf when the tea master pushes down and forward, next gather the hot leaves, shake them, gather in, press down and crush - then cool to bring out the fragrance. Now pan fire again and repeat the process again and again for about 6 hours until the moisture is a uniform 5% and the perfect pound of Dragonwell is produced.
April 23 2013 we received a package from a friend in China. Cal sent us this exquisite boxed set of Dragonwell tea. The label says 18 trees. Care to join us in a cup?
I think I might just spend a moment considering the journey of the leaf before it touches my lips!