Notes from China - Hangzhou
A day in the old capital city of Hangzhou
Last month the Dragonfly team went on a tea adventure to China. Georgia has reported back!
"After a day spent rushing around the busy city of Fuzhou and a two hour flight, a little respite by the famous West Lake in the old capital city of Hangzhou was just what we needed. The huge expanse of calm water stretched far into the distance, reflecting weeping willows and golden-roofed pavilions at its edges, and the low sky above. We could feel our eyes and our minds instantly relaxing.
It seemed natural to find out that West Lake had always been a favourite spot for locals, artists, poets, craftsmen, merchants and emperors - even Marco Polo found his way there. The area was also famous for both its tea culture and its Buddhist temples which so often go hand in hand, and we could still see the pagodas perched high in the surrounding forested hills. After all, legend has it that the first tea plants sprouted from the spot where the Bodhidharma's eyelids fell after he had been meditating for nine long years.
We left our hotel first thing in the morning to explore Gushan Island’s famous public gardens, on the southern side of the lake. Only just missing a dawn downpour, we walked across curving bridges, up stone steps and down wooden walkways, passing tea houses, shrubberies and tiny rock gardens. But even at this early hour we were not alone. Every now and then we’d reach a clearing and find someone practising Tai Chi, or sitting contemplating the view. We also saw some highly focussed games of Mah Jong under shelter of little wooden pavilions, groups of women practicing traditional Chinese dancing by the water’s edge, and in one particularly grand pavilion, some very energetic fox trotting. All this activity at 7am - and all accompanied by brightly coloured flasks of tea.
Our next stop in Hangzhou was the old pedestrianised shopping district, lined with traditional style shops which were whitewashed with intricate carvings and pointed roofs, rarely seen nowadays. Here you could find everything from antiques and silks, to carved laughing Buddhas and even scissors, a local speciality craft. For the tea buffs (us!) there were also fantastic shops selling clay tea pots, cups, special spoons and incense holders for the tea ceremony. Turning off the main drag and through a complex of wooden temple-like buildings and corridors, we found the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine based around the original pharmacy. The huge sombre dispensing hall, decorated with tasselled lanterns and lined with endless drawers and cupboards, has been open for business for over a hundred years. From behind high heavy counters the pharmacists dispensed prescriptions to the customers waiting patiently below, many of which would be for special tea infusions. We were mesmerised by the huge bell jars of floating ginseng root and other more mysterious items, including what looked like a rather angry pickled snake. I think I'll be sticking to tea!
Tea timeLater that day we were taken to see the local tea being made by hand. It’s a fresh, light green tea made with the fresh bud and top two leaves of the tea bush. I was amazed to see a woman using her bare hands to move the tea leaves around a hot wok. Perhaps not one to try at home! It clearly takes enormous skill and knowledge - when to pick the leaves, how long to dry them in the sun, how much time in the wok, how many times to repeat the heating process (usually three or four), and everyone has a slightly different and very secret recipe.
Afterwards, as the sun went down, we went to a lovely wooden tea house by the lakeside and drank the hot tea from tall clear glasses – the Hangzhou way it seemed. The leaves had settled perfectly at the bottom and little beads of condensation had gathered on the rim. It was another one of those special tea moments."
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