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Tea Capital of China Ripe for the Picking as Tea Tourism Thrives in Hangzhou

March 20, 2014 Destination Global No Comments Email Email
The Boston Tea Party kick-started the American Revolution. British gentlemen sipped tea as they wagered on Phileas Fogg’s bid to go around the world in 80 days. But neither would have happened without the perfection of tea thousands of years ago – in China.
Nowhere is that tea better than in the tea capital of China, Hangzhou, a subtropical river city an hour south of Shanghai described by Marco Polo as “the most beautiful and splendid city in the world” for its ancient temples and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed West Lake.

The official start of the tea harvest in Hangzhou gives visitors to China the perfect chance to experience its most famous type of tea – Dragon Well (or “Longjing”) tea – during the West Lake International Tea Culture Expo from March to May, 2014.

Carefully produced by hand, Dragon Well tea comes in many grades and varieties. But the only version considered genuine by tea masters is grown in villages and plantations surrounding the fertile West Lake of Hangzhou.unnamed (2)

During the tea expo, chartered buses transport visitors to local tea attractions, such as the Meijiawu Tea Culture Village, to visit the tea plantations, tea processing areas, and learn how to hand-fry tea as well as identify the true West Lake Dragon Well tea from the imposters.

The green tea, touted for its healing powers, has such a gentle, sweet taste that the tea leaves can actually be eaten after infusion. Those leaves thrive in the villages and plantations of West Lake, the leading tourist destination in Hangzhou.

Harvesting began centuries ago. According to Chinese folklore, tea was discovered in 2737 BCE by Emperor Shennong. An herbalist who liked his drinking water boiled, he was resting with his troops when a servant sent to boil water accidentally dropped a wild tea leaf into the drink. Although the tea turned the water brown, the emperor not only drank it but enjoyed it.

Prized for its medicinal qualities, not to mention its caffeine-fueled ability to keep users alert, tea was used in both the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) and the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).

Tang Dynasty writer Cha Jing compiled the first tea monograph about 760 CE – more than 400 years before the first Japanese tea monograph. More than 100 such monographs were made from the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty.

The specific brand of Dragon Well Tea also has ancient roots.

During the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong first tasted Longjing while visiting Hu Gong Temple at Lion Peak Mountain. He liked the taste so much that he conferred imperial status on the 18 tea bushes in front of the temple. Not only are those bushes still thriving but their produce at auction is worth more money per gram than gold.

Dragon Well Tea took its name from a Hangzhou well filled with dense water. When it rained, the mixing of the gentle waters suggested the twists and turns of a Chinese dragon.

Known for its flavor, aroma, and long-lasting aftertaste, Dragon Well Tea comes in a half-dozen variations:

  • Xihu Longjing (West Lake Longjing) is grown in a specially designated area of 168 square kilometers and is the standard-bearer of quality Longjing tea
  • Ming Qian Longjing, also called Pre-Qingmin Longjing, derives from the first spring shoots and is harvested and produced 10 days before the early-April Qingming Festival
  • Yuqian Longjing (Dragon Well Before the Rain) is picked after the Qingming Festival and is not considered to be of equal quality
  • Bird’s Tongue Longjing, harvested in late March, has a more intense aroma and sweet taste than Ming Qian but supply depends on climate
  • Shi Feng Longjing, with its distinctive yellow-green leaves, features a fresh taste and fine fragrance
  • Meijiawu Longjing, a varietal of Xihu, has a distinctive jade color
All six varieties of Longjing Tea contain Vitamin C, amino acids, and a high concentration of catechins. The meticulous preparation process invariably includes roasting, pan-firing, and steaming. A brewing temperature of 75 degrees C. ensures the best infusion.

According to legend, water from the Dreaming of the Tiger Spring, a noted Hangzhou attraction, was reputed to make a good product even better. Dragon Well Tea is prized for its gentle, sweet aroma and long-lasting taste.

Because the West Lake region is so steeped in tea history, is hardly surprising that Hangzhou is the home of the only museum in China devoted exclusively to tea. The National Tea Museum showcases the evolution of tea from discovery to growing, processing, and distribution. Its six halls cover such subjects as tea sets, tea customs, and the impact of tea on the lives of those involved in its harvesting and manufacture. Visitors witness tea art and also get to taste many varieties of Hangzhou’s most famous product.

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