Hangzhou, Holy Land of Tea

The best way to gain the most insightful view of tea, one can read The Classic of Tea (茶经), a culturally significant account giving the most detailed introduction of tea from its origin, tools, making, utensils, boiling methods and art of drinking, as well as its history. If you want to unravel and experience the mystique of tea, the best place to do it is in Hangzhou. With sprawling tea plantations, countless refined tea houses and the biggest tea museum in China, Hangzhou is the place to pick a handful of dewy tea leaves, enjoy a cup of authentic Dragon Well Green Tea and demystify the intriguing tea ceremony.

Hangzhou is revered as the holy land of tea for good reasons. Since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), it has evolved into a thriving city teeming with numerous tea houses. Marco Polo was astounded by the laidback and exquisite lifestyle so much that he depicted Hangzhou as the most splendid and refined city on earth. With over 700 tea houses scattered in every corner of Hangzhou nowadays, you will delight in this ancient and graceful pastime which sharply contrasts with modern Shanghai’s conglomeration of tightly knit skyscrapers, and frenetic bars and clubs. Hangzhou with its quaint and elegant tea houses, offers travelers an ancient and thriving Chinese tea culture which relaxes and soothes the nerves.

Tea, a drinkable and eatable herb in China
For the Chinese, tea is more than a national beverage. It is an herb with assorted magical medicinal properties. Legend has it that this unassuming leaf once saved the life of Shennong, a semi-divine figure living in a tribal society who risked his life every day by tasting thousands of unknown herbs. One day, he was dying as a result of a deadly poisonous plant that he had swallowed. At that critical moment, several tea leaves accidently fell into his cup. Attracted by the fragrance and appealing color, he sipped several drops. To his surprise, all his pain vanished magically.
Since then, tea enjoys great popularity throughout China. To highlight the benefits of tea, this traditional poem says it all:

“One bowl of tea soothes the burning throat
Two dispel loneliness and worries
Three spark inspiration and smooth writing
Four cause slight sweating, calming down the agitated mind
Five refresh me and six make me immortal
Seven are more than enough
Feeling only fresh breezes rising under the armpits.”

Longjing Tea
Longjing Tea, also known as Dragon Well Tea (its literal translated name), is China’s best quality tea and is produced in the West Lake area of Hangzhou. In ancient times, it was granted the status of “Gong Cha (Imperial Tea)” which was served to Emperors. Its fame is now so widespread that it is offered as a luxury gift and drinking experience to Heads of State from China and around the world. So significant is its importance to this region that the Longjing Tea culture and its producing area have played an important role in West Lake’s inevitable success in becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Longjing Tea is a pan-fried green tea produced mostly by hand and has been renowned for its high quality. It has a history of some 1,200 years, and was said to be named after a well that was believed to be connected to the sea and to have a dragon living within it. Most importantly, it has an interesting history with the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (乾隆皇帝). According to legend, in one of his trips to Jiangnan, the Qianlong Emperor disguised himself as a civilian, and travelled to Longjing Village (龙井村) at the foot of Lion Peak Hill (狮峰山). Intrigued by the view of several girls picking tea from green tea plants, the Emperor walked into the garden and began to pick tea with them. During the process of picking, he was informed that his mother was ill and wished his instant return to Beijing. Shocked by the news, the Emperor shoved the tea he had picked into his pocket and left Hangzhou for Beijing immediately. After he arrived in Beijing, he went to see his mother without delay. Noticing the fragrance coming from her son, his mother asked what it was. The Qianlong Emperor was so concerned about his mother’s health at the time that he completely forgot about the tea in his pocket. He searched himself up and down, and found that the fragrance came from the tea sitting in his pocket that he had picked from Longjing Village. Impressed by the fragrance, the Emperor's mother wanted to have a taste of the tea, and her son had it brewed for her immediately. Tempted by its wonderful flavor, the Emperors mother drank three cups, one after the other, and miraculously recovered from her illness. Seeing this, the Qianlong Emperor was overwhelmingly happy and subsequently bestowed the imperial status on the eighteen tea plants he had picked. The species of plant is still living today, and the Longjing tea garden has become a hot scenic spot for tourists from around the world.

Meijiawu, place to enjoy Longjing Tea (Dragon Well Tea)
Your stay in Hangzhou won’t be complete without a visit to the tea plantations in Meijiawu. This is the cradle of Dragon Well Tea, and it is known for producing the best green tea in China. To emphasize the right picking time, tea farmers in Hangzhou remark that “three days ahead are gold, three days late are trash.” The most experienced tea farmers know that the best tea is picked several days before Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival) which usually occurs around April 5th of the Lunar Calendar. Named as Mingqian Tea, they worth their weight in gold. In one of the farmer houses in Meijiawu, you can join the locals to pick tea, observe the tea baking process, and reward yourself with a cup of Longjing Tea, drunk within its native plantation. If you want to get acquainted with the history, diversity and culture about different kinds of tea that are unique to China, the National Tea Museum is a must-see.

Related: Longjing Tea Plantation