Show on map
By Mariya Gluzman
Just 100 miles southwest of Shanghai lies Hangzhou, the “playground of Shanghai.” Sitting on the glorious West Lake Hangzhou is a perfect vacation spot for travelers near and far. One of its many draws is an area just outside the city called Long Jing, Dragon Well. One of the most famous Chinese teas – Long Jing Tea – comes from there.
Legend has it that a disguised emperor stayed there once in a farmhouse overnight. He had a dream that the entire area, with all its hills and valleys, hid a giant sleeping dragon. The dragon chose to reveal itself to the dreaming emperor foretelling much glory ahead. When he woke up he named the region Long Jing, Dragon Well.
The most famous spring tea from Long Jing is collected in late March-early April and is usually referred to as either emperor tea or white tea. Only the newest top leaves are hand-picked and baked by hand, making it one of the more expensive teas you will encounter. The top leaves that are picked in April, May, and early June are considered green tea and are worth less, depending on the month they were picked.
There are several working plantations in Long Jing that offer tea-tastings, tours of their facilities, and various educational lectures about tea. Our tour organizer told us of one particular farm only minutes from downtown Hangzhou and we decided to visit it.
The Mei Jia Wu Tea Plantation
In this tea heaven, nestled in the hills covered with tea terraces we found our Mei Jia Wu family-operated tea plantation. Greeting us was of one of the descendents of the original founders of the farm, an attractive lady named Mei. Her English was impeccable and her attitude was very friendly. In the front yard of the main house a demonstration area was set up with three side-by-side basins used to bake the tea by hand. One of the workers came out and demonstrated the process to us. He greased one of the basins with a little bit of tea oil, used a straw basket to measure out a small quantity or tiny emerald-colored fresh tea-leaves, and began swirling them around the hot basin with his bare hands.
“This is the only way to bake Long Jing tea,” Mei told us. The method has not changed for centuries.
She then brought us into the courtyard that had a long decorative serpent body dsign running the perimeter and a large statue of Lu Yu, the preeminent Tang Dynasty tea scholar. Through the courtyard we reached one of the buildings that housed demonstration rooms and were asked to sit down around a large table for a tea ceremony.
As her helpers boiled water and prepared our cups Mei instructed us in the proper way to prepare and consume this type of tea – an April tea. Firstly, the tea is not supposed to be covered by boiling water because that kills all the vitamins as well as the flavor. The water is supposed to be hot, but not boiling. Secondly, the first steeping is meant to be smelled and admired for its color. Only the second steeping is to be sipped. The tea leaves can be used 5 more times and usually they are eaten and not thrown out. Thirdly, when an attendant or a host fills your cup you are supposed to tap the table three times, which stands for “xie xie ni”, “thank you.”
The Purifying Properties of Green Tea
While we were enjoying our aromatic brew she told us about the wondrous properties of tea. Tea – young green tea especially – is full of vitamins and antioxidants. It is the best natural detoxicant, she affirmed. She then demonstrated to us just how well tea can “purify” our bodies from the inside. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. She poured some uncooked white rice into a cup, saying that the cup represents our stomachs and rice the food that we eat. Rice is pretty much neutral, however, we eat a lot of stuff that’s full of free radicals or oxidants that can damage our bodies. Mei then poured a little bit of iodine into the cup to signify the toxic oxidant-filled food we eat on a daily basis. The rice immediately turned brown.
“Doctors tell you to drink a lot of water to help detox,” Mei said and poured some clean water into the cup of iodine-stained rice. The water turned a muddy-tan color though the rice got a bit lighter. Thus she demonstrated that while water helps, it only dilutes the concentration of toxic substances but does not neutralize them. She poured some of the dirty rice-water and rice out into a clean cup and added more water, which made the liquid appear even lighter but still muddy.
“Look what even a few spoonfuls of tea can do,” she proclaimed and then added some steeped tea into the glass that had the lighter-colored water and rice. She swirled the glass around and like some miracle, the water turned clear and the rice white. She then did the same thing to the original glass. Though it took a bit more tea and more swirling, the liquid eventually turned clear and the rice regained its original color. I was awestruck and the rest of the people in the group began to whistle and applaud. Even those of us who knew about the healing properties of tea had never seen such a persuasive practical demonstration.
“Drink green tea every day and you will live 100 years,” said Mei concluding her demonstration.
Several baskets of various spring teas were then brought out. She taught us how to tell the different teas apart by sight, smell, and taste and offered to personally fill and seal some tins for us to take home. The emperor tea was very affordable this year, she informed us, only 300RMB (approximately $45) for 100 grams. The other teas were a bit cheaper.
The plantation also had a large store that sold local plum wine and various candies and snacks made out of tea. Beautiful tea sets and cups were for sale as well, but they were pricier than at the various markets we’d been to previously.
While the tea ceremony supplies can be purchased cheaply in Shanghai’s many markets it is much safer and more cost-effective to buy the tea straight from the growers. You know exactly what you are getting and you eliminate the middle-man.