Monday, January 6, 2014

A Tea Story: A Dragon's Tale!

Stories and legends abound surrounding tea especially in Chinese folklore. One of the most renowned teas is Longjing which translates to Dragon Well. This is a beautiful green tea that was often given just to royalty and other high ranking officials. There are even a few tea plantations grown exclusively for them. Today, anyone can enjoy this fine tea though it can be quite expensive depending on the variety. How Longjing achieved its famous status is an interesting tale. Here’s how the story goes:

One day, Emperor Qianlong was visiting the Hu Gong Temple at West Lake in Hangzhou. He became mesmerized by the rhythmic plucking of the tea by the ladies in the gardens situated below the temple and decided to join them and give it a shot himself. As the emperor continued plucking, he received word that his mother had fallen ill. He tucked away the tea leaves he had plucked into the sleeve of his robe and immediately departed for Beijing. While he sat by her bedside, his mother sensed the sweet fragrance of the tea leaves wafting from his sleeves which by this time had lost all their moisture. These leaves were turned over to a servant for brewing and served to the emperor’s mother. Upon drinking the tea, she regained her health. Emperor Qianlong was so impressed by the results that he immediately gave Imperial Status to the 18 Longjing tea bushes growing by the temple.

The Imperial Status tea bushes are still growing today, and are known to sell at auctions for more than the price of gold in grams. I was told that the term “Cha-ching” or “Ka-ching” which is associated with the sound of old cash registers is actually derived from Longjing. The resemblance in spelling as well as the pronunciation is certainly there but, I have not been able to find any documentation to verify this from my search on the web. If anyone has any information regarding this, please send me the links, I’d love to read about it!

This would look so cool on my arm!

Now, how did Longjing or Dragon Well get its name? There are some interesting fables in this case as well. Here are just a few tales:

  • When digging a well, the locals found a stone in the shape of a dragon and thus decided to name the well “Dragon Well”. Not sure how they thought the stone looked like a dragon. How would you validate that when dragons don’t exist? Or do they?
  • Supposedly, the water in the well is quite dense. So, after rain showers, the light rain drops floating on the surface of the well water begin twisting and turning in patterns resembling Chinese-stylized dragon drawings or tattoos you often see. 
  • Locals believed that a dragon actually lived in the well and was capable of controlling the weather. Yes, he was a meteorologist! During droughts, locals would offer treats and pray to the dragon for rain, which he would submit to as requested. Hmmm….I wonder if it was Puff the Magic Dragon himself?

Remember this goofy character?

There are some variations to all the stories indicated in this post and each version is just as intriguing. Folklore makes for great storytelling to friends and even children alongside pots of tea. They certainly pass the time away during those uncomfortable moments of silence. On my next post, I’ll show you how to prepare a cup of this fine tea!

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