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Legends of Dragonwell Tea

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There is an incredible amount of Chinese lore surrounding dragonwell tea, with each tale more mystifying than the last. Recently I came across one of these stories that I thought might be particularly worth sharing, because it seems to relate to our culture’s custom of giving around the winter holiday season.  This story is translated from the work of a Chinese blog writer named 刘胜权, and it goes something like this:

A long long time ago there was an old lady who lived by a dragon well (a type of large mortar).  Near her house and the mortar grew eighteen wild tea trees of the type that usually grew in mountainous regions.  Right outside her front door ran the busiest part of a street that the NanShan farmers used to travel to Xi’Hu.  When travelers passed by, they always wanted to take a break at this spot, so the old lady set up a single table and a wooden bench for passerbys.  At the same time, she thought she could use some of the wild tea leaves and water from the old mortar to brew up some tea.  It would be a great place for members of her community to rest before making the journey to Xi’Hu.  Little did she know, some day this spot would become known throughout the world.

One winter, only a few days before the new year, when the snow was falling and piling up very deeply, and the tea trees were about to be frozen through and die, there was an unending stream of travelers on their way to buy New Years gifts.  In spite of the cold, all of these people still stopped at the old woman’s door.  One elderly man, as soon as they saw the old woman instantly asked:

“Grandma, have you bought anything yet for new years?”

The old woman sighed and replied, “Don’t speak of new years.  I can’t afford to buy anything.  I only have these few tea trees, and even they are about to freeze to death.  Next year, when spring comes, I won’t even be able to give out tea anymore.”

“That is your most valuable article,” the elder said, pointing to an old, busted mortar.  “It doesn’t even have any use.  You could only benefit by selling the old thing.”

The old lady replied. “This mortar gets better the older it gets.  Now, even if I washed it, it would be worthless.  A broken mortar would never sell, and for some things, you just want to take care of them into the future.”

The elderly man dug ten silver pieces from the bottom of the mortar and offered them to her, but the old lady dare not take the money.  When she turned around the old man had vanished without a trace, so she had no choice but to keep the money herself.  A year passed, and during the second spring, tender buds and new leaves sprouted on the eighteen tea trees, and the trees grew better than before.  Even more miraculously, wherever she splashed the water from the old mortar more trees grew, and before long the trees were more numerous than ever before.  From then on, the old lady was able to happily continue brewing tea for any who passed by.  Thus goes the story of the birth of  Dragonwell Long Jing tea.

In this story, it is implied that the old man was a wandering spirit who enjoyed the tea and the service the old lady provided.  Noticing that she was in trouble, he put her dedication to tea to the test.  Seeing that she was faithful to her brewing method, and that she cared well for the mortar and tea trees which enabled her to run her business, the spirit left her enough money to make it through the difficult winter, and blessed her mortar with the ability to grow tea trees.

In this new year, take a lesson from the old woman in this legend, and treat your community well by sharing some delicious dragonwell tea.

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