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Enter the dragon-tea

By Matt Hodges (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-04-30 09:47
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Dragons used to terrify the tea farmers and Buddhist monks of Hangzhou, who in former years saw one as the angry architect of a tidal wave that fills the city's Qiantang River with wondrous swells each October.

Enter the dragon-tea

Tea-serving performance is staged in Hangzhou to attract buyers.

Nowadays local families hope the area's eponymous Dragon Well Tea, together with a push from the provincial government, will help rescue them from a deepening global recession which tea-makers in the area claim has eaten into their profits by as much as 33 percent.

Tea-serving performance is staged in Hangzhou to attract buyers. Li Zhong

"We've already cancelled our travel plans for Labor Day (May 1) and National Day (Oct 1)," says 30-year-old Zhu Qinggun, who spends eight hours a day in a lab coat hand-drying mint-green leaves in a circular wooden tub. He works within the city's Meijiawu Tea Culture Village.

"Fewer people are coming here and buying our tea, so it looks like we're going to make 30,000 yuan ($4,412) to 40,000 yuan less this year," adds Zhu, who, like most farmers here, works within an autonomous family unit that is exempt from paying agricultural taxes.

Although tourist numbers jumped from 40 million to 48 million last year - 80 percent of them Chinese - things have apparently started to sour courtesy of the world credit crisis.

In a bid to help stop the rot, the city is rushing to get foreign tourists to swap their Starbucks' frappucinos for its signature tea, called Longjingcha (Dragon Well Tea) in Chinese, by trumpeting it as China's tastiest anti-oxidizing, anti-cancer agent.

"We need to establish ourselves as the original brand, because this kind of tea sells for a high price," says Professor Mao Dan, the de facto head of the local industry. The city patented the tea a decade ago and is now pursuing joint ventures with mainland distributors to maintain sales.

To help matters, officials invited two dozen expats from Shanghai recently to see behind the scenes of its tea-making culture and spread the gospel that green tea is the future.

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