A famous village where everyone makes Dragonwell tea - Meijiawu Village
On our second day in Hangzhou we headed to the famous Meijiawu Village, one of the older, original tea villages that many consider to be the true West Lake region. The village is swarming with tourists as it is an easy getaway for the busy people of modern China. We were met by the Zhu Family's daughter (and her husband) on the tourist-filled streets, and led to their home to talk about the season’s tea and business. While our other Dragonwell contact, Farmer Ge, uses the Internet to sell tea, the Zhu Family only sells their tea in the village. Jane had met them in 2012, back when Tealet was just beginning – it was emotional when the family showed us Jane’s original business card from two years prior, from her first trip here. We had come a long way together!
The Zhu Family, with a heritage of creating Dragonwell tea.
After drinking the new teas of the season we were introduced to the older brother, Jack, who processes the tea. He speaks just enough English to explain many things on video, including how to identify Dragonwell tea harvested at different points throughout the season. Early harvest Dragonwell can be very expensive, and a harvest 3 days earlier can mean 2x the price! It is very important to be able to identify the differences to make sure you are not being deceived. The family explained to us that merchants often make up stories to take advantage of the high prices in the tourist markets.
Contrasts of new and old: From the tourist-filled streets,
to the homes of tea farmers in Meijiawu Village.
Jack walked us to his home where he does all the processing of their tea. He was so happy to welcome us to his home that he immediately put a Tea Fairy sticker in his workplace and on his shirt. His equipment was very similar to what we saw in Longwu Village and in the rest of Meijiawu (it seems that the entire village is tea growers!) but we didn’t see a single cigarette or ashtray in sight. Many of the other tea producers explained to us that they needed the cigarettes to stay awake throughout the busy season. Jack doesn’t smoke, which he is proud of, and he doesn’t like to have cigarette smoke around his tea. At the end of the tour he finished drying a batch of tea with his hands, then let me give it a try. The pan was extremely hot, I can’t imagine how much skill is required to process tea for hours every night during the harvest season.
We tried pan-firing tea at Jack's workstation. The wok is really hot!
The cup on the counter contains tea oil powder, used to make the leaves slick.
Afterwards, we took a quick hike behind the house to the tea fields located in on the outskirts of the village. It is quite convenient that Jack’s tea bushes are just a few steps away from where he processes. They explained to us the history of their tea garden, and their passion for making high-quality Dragonwell. Great care needs to be taken during plucking to get just the two leaves and a bud plucking standard. The harvest season is hectic, and requires diligent work both day and night to produce results.
It is also challenging during the summer when the heat attracts pests to the gardens. Unfortunately, almost every farmer (the family says “every”) in the area uses chemicals during the pest-ridden summer months. They assured us that no tea is processed or sold in Meijiawu during the summer because the market price and tea values are so low, it is not cost-efficient. By the time the tea is harvested next Spring, the chemicals from summer are no longer in the leaves. The family says they have had the leaves tested to verify this. When we asked them if they would consider exploring alternative methods for fighting pests, they said they were happy to try but the options so far do not work. It is important to keep in mind the challenges that these farmers face, but also be open-minded about the future.
In the beautiful tea fields of Meijiawu Village.
We went home with 2 batches of Dragonwell from the Zhu Family - a small April 12 batch and a larger April 15 batch. While both have the elegant and refined sweet chestnut and vegetal profile, the April 12 harvest does have a richness in texture and flavor that makes the earlier harvest more prized. Very interesting! Since our trip we have been able to share our Meijiawu Dragonwell with many friends, and are proud to be sharing the true flavors of West Lake's famous tea.
The Amazing Tea Race - Meijiawu Village, in West Lake, China.