China is renowned for its production (and consumption) of high-quality green tea. My daughter, Nicole, and I were eager to learn about its production and sample some of the best this country known for tea had to offer.
We had spent an enjoyable visit touring Hangzhou, which is a little more than an hour southwest of Shanghai. Close as Shanghai and Hangzhou may be, they couldn’t be more different in look and feel.
Shanghai is a futuristic cityscape that conjures images from science fiction movies like Blade Runner and A.I., a city nearly sinking under the weight of its own rapid construction.
Contrast that with the peaceful tranquility of Hangzhou’s West Lake and the lush Huagang Garden, the place Marco Polo described in the 1400s as “the city of heaven” and “beyond dispute the finest and noblest in the world.”
We had saved the best for last: as Nicole and I left Hangzhou’s West Lake and drove about 20 minutes into the mountains, we were about to discover the best treat in the country: Longjing Tea, or “Dragon Well Tea.”
The hillsides of the Longjing region were covered in green tea bushes, and within the rows we could make out the pointed yellow hats first, then the people under them.
We saw hundreds of men and women in traditional straw hats, wide brimmed and pointed at the top, in the fields with their bags, picking the tea leaves.
Attired in what looked, from a distance, like formal kimonos, a small army picked tea in the fields.
We had entered China’s “capital of tea.” Then we got a closer look by entering the rows of tea bushes and picking some for ourselves.
Longjing or “dragon well” green tea is the most exclusive in China — and perhaps the most exclusive green tea in the world. The workers on the tea plantation only pick the smallest, most tender top two leaves on each section.
Longjing tea used to be harvested and produced solely for the Emperor himself. During Imperial China, nobody enjoyed the exclusive Longjing tea except the Emperor and his elite guests.
We just happened to be here in late March, during the annual tea harvest — one of the area’s most anticipated events and a must-experience for tea drinkers.
It was the perfect time to visit, the tea leaves were ripe for the picking — and at their freshest and tastiest. Right off the bush, the leaves tasted sweet and succulent.
After we picked and tasted some of the freshly picked tea leaves, we went to an area of large metal woks and saw how the tea leaves were lightly roasted — immediately after picking, so the green leaves wouldn’t oxidize or ferment.
We tasted them again; after roasting, the leaves were slightly crunchy and tasted something like a delicate sunflower seed. We watched the tea leaves go from bush to bag to wok, then we went into a ceremonial tearoom for a taste of tea as it is intended.
In our tearoom at the Longjing Tea Plantation, we came to understand why Longjing is considered by many to be the best green tea in the world.
A green tea professional (a women with a PhD in tea) lectured us about the Dragon Well Tea as we drank. She suggested drinking eight to 20 cups of green tea each day not only for taste, but for health purposes.
Good green works as a natural detox, helps with weight control, and is good for general health. (Not to mention how healthy such prescriptions are for the local tea industry.)
Good business or not, the tea was so fragrant and tasty that, after making several cups with the same leaves, we could eat the wet tea leaves and they tasted great. These greens sold themselves.
With an earthy, sweet fragrance and taste, we agreed that the fresh Longjing “dragon well” tea was the best tea we’d tasted . . . even if perhaps elevated by our unique experience.
It’s safe to say that Hangzhou and the nearby Longjing Dragon Well tea left a pleasing taste in our mouths.
If You’d Like to Follow in Our Footsteps
Chances are, if you’re going to the plantation for a Longjing Dragon Well tea experience, you’re already in China for a tour of Hangzhou.
And, although Hangzhou, with a population of about 7 million, remains a serene heaven on earth and is one of the most popular vacation destinations for natives, if a westerner is visiting Hangzhou, in most cases, their true destination was Shanghai.
The point being, I’ll spare the details of how to get to China, other than to say that the most economical and comfortable way is to secure a package deal with one of several Chinese tour companies.
It offers deals so attractive that they must be subsidized by the government to promote tourism.
Many of these package deals offer about half of the time on guided tours (convenient) and half of your time on your own (for exploring and adventuring on your own). We prefer the latter.
There’s really not a bad time to visit Hangzhou, but the best times are in the spring and autumn. Nicole and I enjoyed our visit in the spring.
From Shanghai, you can reach the Longjing Dragon Well hillsides by taking the high-speed train to Hangzhou. Then, from Honggiao railway station, you can take the B2 bus or a taxi to Wulin Square.
From there, you can take Bus 28 to the Qu Yuan Feng bus stop, transfer to Bus 27 and take it to the Longjing Cha Shi stop. Walk west, take the turn right at the fork, and you’ll be there.
Traveler’s secret: some people love the adventure of taking the public transportation as described above. If you prefer a less stressful route, a taxi from downtown Hangzou will only run around ten dollars or euros.
Just make sure you keep enough currency to enjoy some good tea, and to perhaps even take a canister or two home with you.
Author Bio: Eric D. Goodman enjoys traveling as much as he loves writing. His fiction and travel stories have been published in many periodicals, including Go Nomad, InTravel Magazine, Travel Mag, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Grub Street, Scribble Magazine, and others. Eric’s the author of the award-winning Tracks: A Novel in Stories about travelers who connect on a train, Flightless Goose, a storybook for children, and the forthcoming Womb: a novel in utero. Learn more about Eric and his work at www.EricDGoodman.com and connect with him at www.Facebook.com/EricDGoodman.