Silk Chrysanthemum Bud

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From Cultivate Tea


October 2020

Tongxiang, Zhejiang

Silk Chrysanthemum is a product born out of love and respect for traditions, heritage, and nature. It is an embodiment of everything that Cultivate stands for: passionate artisans, heirloom varietals with history, biodynamic and natural farming methods, and craftsmanship adhering to traditions and cultures that have been passed down for generations.

Silk chrysanthemum is a traditional heirloom varietal of chrysanthemum called Hangbai 杭白菊, from the small county of Tongxiang in Zhejiang Province. This particular varietal has been cultivated for more than 380 years, and it is regarded as one of Zhejiang Province’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ items.

This incredibly precious chrysanthemum is produced by a young couple, Mei Yuhui (“Mei”) and Yu Jiangang (“Yu”).

Mei and Yu’s desire to preserve the heritage and traditions of the countryside led them to leave their corporate jobs in Beijing and return to their hometown years ago. Their family have been silk farmers for generations before them, and it has always been their dream to start a farm as well.

Through conversations with friends, they realized that authentic and traditional Hangbai chrysanthemum were disappearing from the market; and of the very few farms that still produce it, none of them followed organic farming methods.

In 2017, they decided to have a micro-farm dedicated to growing traditional Hangbai chrysanthemum following biodynamic and natural farming methods, and traditional processing methods. They named their chrysanthemum “Silk Chrysanthemum”, for it was as precious as the silk their family had crafted for generations.

The first challenge in their journey came very early on. They discovered that no one in the village had any seeds of the heirloom traditional chrysanthemum—the varietal had gradually disappeared more than 10 years ago!

One of the reasons for this disappearance is that the farming of Hangbai chrysanthemum is extremely labour-intensive. As an annual herb, the chrysanthemum plant requires transplanting and propagation by stem cutting every year, as well as weeding and harvesting. The traditional processing of Hangbai chrysanthemum also required complicated techniques that require time, such as small-batch steaming and low-temperature baking. Many villagers, seeking a higher income, went on to work in the textile industry. As a result, the chrysanthemum-making traditions that had lasted for over 300 years, quietly disappeared.

In 2018, through pure chance, they discovered that a childhood friend had been growing a few Hangbai chrysanthemum in their family garden.

That was the humble beginnings of their quarter-of-an-acre Hangbai chrysanthemum farm.

To Mei and Yu, their Silk Chrysanthemum is defined by a few key characteristics. Firstly, it is a heirloom varietal of the Hangbai chrysanthemum plant from the unique terroir of Tongxiang County of Zhejiang Province. Secondly, their biodynamic and natural farming methods. No pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers are used in the planting process. Sheep and silkworm manure is used as nutrients for the soil, as well as leaf mulch. Lastly, the chrysanthemum is crafted using traditional processing methods of steaming and baking over charcoal. No sulphur is ever used.

2019 was the first year of planting and harvesting at their young micro-farm. The planting season started in April of that year. The chrysanthemum plants staggered through the rainy season, enduring frequent typhoons until November when the flowering season finally began. In just two short weeks, the harvest must be completed before the frost. After an entire year of hard work, the yield was a mere 15 kilograms.

Each chrysanthemum bud is harvested carefully by hand in the morning. At night, they are processed using a centuries-old traditional steaming method. Wood from local camphor trees are used to start a fire. Micro-batches of 250 grams of fresh chrysanthemum buds are placed inside handwoven bamboo baskets, and steamed for 4 to 5 minutes over the fire. They are then baked for 4 to 6 hours to remove any remaining moisture. The steamed chrysanthemum buds are then sun-dried for 2-3 days on bamboo baskets. A final round of baking over charcoal dries the buds thoroughly.

The resulting tea is absolutely amazing. The buds immediately yield an electric yellow infusion, like rays of radiating sunshine. It has an incredible richness and sweetness that envelops the palate, with exceptional purity and clarity. An extremely long-lasting tea that will yield more than 6 infusions. A perfect tea for the summer time to help you cool down and relax!

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