Bringing Out the Dragon at Tea Time

Dragons are part of tea time, especially when you are enjoying any of the hundreds of fine teas from China. And here’s why…

Phoenix and Dragon gaiwan representing the Empress and Emperor of ancient China
Phoenix and Dragon gaiwan representing the Empress and Emperor of ancient China

A few years back I purchased a 4-ounce pouch of a tea called Nine Bend Black Dragon, which, of course, inspired me to look into this whole dragons and tea connection further. The name of the tea is a combination of two things: the Nine Bend river that runs through the hometown of the original tea producer, and black dragons, which are a symbol of luck in China. This is a high-grade Tippy Orange Pekoe black tea from the Panyong district of Fuan City in Fujian Province, China. It’s sometimes called Panyong Needle, due to the long, thin shape of the processed tea leaves. One whiff from the freshly opened pouch roused the internal dragon from its slumber.

A cuppa Nine Bend Black Dragon
A cuppa Nine Bend Black Dragon

Dragons have existed in the minds and imaginations of generations down the centuries. They come in two basic kinds: Eastern and Western.

Eastern Dragons

The eastern kind is in Asian countries, most notably China, which has nine different ones:

  • Dragon King
  • Yinglong the Winged Dragon
  • Dilong the Underground Dragon
  • Shenlong the Spiritual Dragon
  • Tianlong the Celestial Dragon
  • Panlong the Coiling Dragon
  • Huanglong the Yellow Dragon
  • Fucanglong the Dragon of Hidden Treasures
  • Li the Homeless Dragon

They are mainly beautiful, friendly, and anxious to impart knowledge to us humble humans, who are naturally too proud to listen to their wisdom.

Dragons show up a lot in Chinese legends and symbols. They are supposed to be able to transform themselves and so represent adaptability. But they also represent power, good luck, the natural world, and rule of the seas and skies. If they have 5 toes/claws, they become the emperor’s sacred symbol of imperial power and dignity and are one of the 12 Symbols of Sovereignty. The dragon is also one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In ancient China, dragons were thought live in the mountains or in the seas and to speed across the sky with divine power. They can generally symbolize benevolence, prosperity, longevity, and the renewal of life. Eastern dragons are found in jade carvings, paintings on silk, and elsewhere.

Western Dragons

Western dragons are much different. They are fierce, nasty, ugly, and often fire-breathing, resulting in some brave knight in shining armor rescuing a fair maiden from their clutches by hacking off dragon heads with one stroke of the sword. Britain has the richest lore on dragons, which ranged from “worms” (more like large snakes with elaborate heads), basilisks (who could kill with a stare), and wyverns (reptilian and half-way between worms and dragons), to the full-blown image we associate with dragons today with bat-like wings and talon-equipped claws. One such story is of the fire-breathing dragon that was the terror of Kingston St. Mary in Dorset County until a brave hero rolled a large boulder down its throat and choked it. Hundreds more such stories exist. These dragons appear in virtually all of the arts. From the fire-breathing dragon in Disney’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty, the paintings by Peruvian-born artist Boris Vallejo, and Ernest Drake’s fun-filled The Dragonology Handbook, to the Basilisk in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, dragons stir the heart and set it pounding.

The Tea Connection

The Nine Bend Black Dragon tea lived up to its name, with a caffeine kick and bracing flavor – earthy, woodsy, smooth, no bitterness, very distinctive and pleasing. A cupful is sure to bring good luck, just as its namesake promises. On another note, wulong (oolong) is said to mean “black dragon” and refers to the darker color of the tea leaves, especially those that are more highly oxidized and/or roasted.

Some Final Thoughts

While dragons (both eastern and western) aren’t something you want to run into in a back alley at night by yourself, especially when wearing high heels and a non-flame-retardant evening gown, you can enjoy this tea anytime anywhere and let your dragon come through. It’s usually recommended as an after dinner tea, but I like a cup during my mid-afternoon break, when my brain feels scrambled and needs a “time out.”

As for the dragon in me, I think it’s more the eastern kind — especially the part about being wise. At least, a few cupfuls of Nine Bend Black Dragon tea certainly makes me feel wise.

An interesting tidbit I discovered while researching dragons: “Cinnabar” is the name of the common ore of mercury, generally occurring in areas of recent volcanic activity and alkaline hot springs. The name is supposed to be from a Persian word meaning “dragon blood.” Just thought I’d pass that item along.

Have a cup of tea and give your inner dragon a bit of satisfaction. Enjoy!

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text


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