A fresh cup of morning tea is the preferred start of the day for many people, both at home and abroad. Its gently warming allure is enough to tempt many from their beds and set them on course for even the most grueling of days ahead.
It is perhaps appropriate then that the people of Hangzhou, one of China's most beautiful cities, opt to mark the beginning of the seasonal cycle with their annual tea festival. Arguably the perfect pick-me-up in a year that is likely to be more demanding than most, the 2009 China West Lake International Tea Culture Expo, to give it its more formal title, will see its last stirring tomorrow when this year's event draws to a close.
This year's event, the fifth held in the city, opened on March 27, amid a rousing overture and a multi-gong salute. The success of the 2009 expo has further underlined the status of Hangzhou, capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, as China's "Tea Capital."
Whilst primarily aimed at promoting the region's tea culture, the 2009 event has also been a key part of Hangzhou's bid to establish West Lake as a World Heritage site, as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The 6.5 sq km lake is one of China's most popular tourists destinations and provincial tourism bosses hope that securing UNESCO approbation will boost its international profile.
The tea festival is sponsored by the Hangzhou city government, the China International Tea Culture Research Association, the Institute of Chinese Tea Industry and the Zhejiang Tourism Bureau.
This year the three-week expo focused on the city's successful integration of contemporary urban life with classical tea culture. This "marriage" of old and new was celebrated through a series of high-profile events, including a tea exhibition, a tea banquet, a tea-poem meeting, a tea cultural exchange and a family tea competition.
The end of the festival will have a particular piquancy for many of the region's tea farmers and agricultural workers. The opening of the festival signals the end of the annual tea harvest and marks the start of the holiday season for the usually-busy tea workers.
The festival proper was staged in the village of Shuangling, some hour's drive away from Hangzhou. Famous for the beauty of its mountainous surroundings, the village is also well-known as the home of the Dragon Well Tea brand and its extensive 38.5 hectare tea plantation estate. The village now boasts annual tea production in excess of 56,000 kg.
According to Jiang Jun, a representative for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission's marketing department, the 2009 expo was aimed at attracting greater support and participation from the local community than in previous years. The event has previously focused on attracting foreign tourists.
Among the highlights of this year's event were five disparate zones celebrating different areas of tea culture - the tea cultural gourmet, tea cultural exchange, the Chinese tea experience, tea cultural training and tea cultural tourism.
The event also saw demonstrations of Dragon Well tea's unique hand frying technique and the staging of the annual Triathlon Tea Woman competition, during which competitors have to demonstrate their aptitude for tea-picking, frying and brewing.
Visitors to the expo also had the opportunity to attend an open day at the village and a chance to view its fertile tea fields.
Despite eschewing modern agricultural practices and the use of mechanized farming equipment, the high quality black Hongmei tea produced here is viewed as among the best in China.
(China Daily 04/16/2009 page3)