green tea

A Traditional Longjing Tea Ceremony in China’s “Heaven on Earth”

green tea

By Monica Suma

Every year in early April the Chinese begin to methodically pluck green tea from hills peppered with idyllic terraces. Spring is considered the best time of year to harvest, and once the flowers bloom, so begins the season of tea ceremonies to honor this prized crop. And given I had been in Shanghai for the past few weeks, there was no better time to do the same.

A visit to the home of Longjing tea was not only a reviving getaway from the bustling city of Shanghai, but also a reflection of how tea has been an integral part of the Chinese culture for centuries.

Dubbed “heaven on earth” in numerous Chinese poems, the history of Hangzhou spans back over 2,000 years. It came to global attention once the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal — the world’s longest canal — was built. However, it is West Lake and Meiijawu Tea Cultural Village that are most alluring in present day.

hangzhou - heaven on earth

Photo by justin_li

I join a group of four other 20-something-year-olds, one of which is also a New Yorker. Once we reach Hangzhou,  just an hour away from Shanghai, we are welcomed by the first trees we’ve seen in weeks.

We embark on a boat that will take us along West Lake. Flanked by abundant hills of green foliage, it’s hard to believe we are in the same China we left earlier that day; the air is unadulterated and we are surrounded by nature. After an intense month in Shanghai’s foggy, skyscraper-infested metropolis, it’s comforting to witness China’s unaltered beauty.

Nested amidst the greenery of the mountains lies the pastoral Meijiawu Tea Village. Countless tea pickers, sheltered from the sun under their conical traditional hats, fervently and delicately pluck tea.

We stop on a narrow street to shamelessly pry into the perfect rows of green tea bushes; the workers don’t bat an eye at us. Given how hot it already is outside, we wonder how long their days must be.

picking green tea longjing china

Photo by jaaronfar

Fresh tea leaves are being poured into a large wok, and stir-fried a few times. The dried tea is then wrapped in kraft paper and put into an urn filled with lime with the purpose of refining the smell.

After strolling around the grounds, we proceed towards a Chinese garden, where the tea fragrance is enrapturing. A large teapot acts as a fountain inside the courtyard’s pond.

Just in time for the traditional tea ceremony, we are greeted into a spacious chamber where different types of loose teas are displayed on a large wooden table. There are three types of green tea: newly picked, several weeks old and several months old. The youngest tea offers the highest amount of possible health benefits, including anti-aging and anti-oxidant properties. We are told the fresher the tea, the higher the quality and thus, higher the price.

Our host scoops a pinch of loose tea for each of our glasses and begins to pour hot water. The first sip is bitter, but part of the delight of savoring green tea is inhaling the rising steam while the tea is brewing. She then adds a bit of dry fruit that sweetens the aroma.

“It’s important the water to be at right temperature,” she says. “For Longjing tea, about 95 degrees (Celsius), or the health properties will be lost.”

The best time to pour the water is about a minute after it has boiled. The color has to be slightly green, certainly not brownish ““ a sign it has brewed too long. This will give the tea the perfect taste and preserve its quality. We are also advised to avoid placing any lid on the cup, for the same reasons.

A generous pinch of Longjing tea can last for up to five tastings. Firm believers of its life-enriching qualities, the locals drink it incessantly. They believe it brings them longevity and health. And given the life expectancy of the people here ““ 77.44 for men and 82.25 for women — I can see how true that is.

Once the ceremony is done, I pay 60 RMB for my jar of fresh green tea. I am already envisioning steam coming out from my newly purchased Chinese porcelain cups.

tea house

Photo by joytsna

We head back to Hangzhou, to visit Liuhe Pagoda, also known as The Six Harmonies Pagoda. Originally constructed in 970 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty, it was destroyed in 1121, and fully reconstructed by 1165, during the Southern Song Dynasty. The sturdy structure is a masterpiece of ancient Chinese architecture, overlooking the Qiantang River.

As I curb my gaze into the horizon, I exchange glances with a group of elders in the distance. They are surely Chinese workers of the land, whose grueling years of intense labor under the scorching sun have sunk deep onto their faces, like the rigid lines of a map.

This is China, I think to myself: a cup of steaming green tea, rooted in thousands of years of history, sturdy, long-lasting traditions and arduous hard work.

 Monica Suma 150x150 Get Cultured: Shanghai   A Local Guide to the Paris of the EastABOUT THE WRITER

Romanian by birth, but New Yorker at heart, there is nothing Monica enjoys more than traveling and exploring other cultures. Her 20-something relentless quests stem from a long bucket-list, always accompanied by her camera. Follow her adventures around the world on her blog Monica-Suma or on Twitter @MonicaSuma.

Feature photo by psit

  1. Wonderful post! Tea cultivation and drinking is one of the important cultures of China followed by people in China in every household. China’s rich flavorful tea cultivation has a long amazing history.

  2. As the capital city of China, Beijing is the center of national politics and culture,
    and a hub of Chinese international interaction. Alongside Xian, Luoyang, Kaifeng,
    Nanjing and Hangzhou, Beijing is one of the Six Ancient Cities in China.
    In addition, Beijing was the host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
    With a population of about 17 million people,
    Beijing contains 18 districts and counties, which are further subdivided into 273 lower (third)-level administrative units
    at the township level. Situated at the northwest edge of the North China Plain, Beijing City
    is next to Tianjin City, to its southeast. The landform of this city basically falls
    away from northwest to southeast. Beijing was also known as Peking by the Western world before 1949.

    It is one of the famed ancient cities in the world.
    With more than two-thousand years of history, Beijing City is a
    place of military importance. It had consistently been
    the capital of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
    In the early nineteen-twenties, Beijing became the cradle
    of Chinese new democratic revolution. The May Fourth Movement against imperialism and feudalism began
    here in 1919. And in Oct. 1, 1949, Beijing became the capital city of the PRC,
    which opened a new page in this ancient city. Beijing boasts abundant tourist resources;
    ancient architecture, royal gardens, mansions, towers, temples, palaces, and modern structures,
    including the world-class Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven,
    Summer Palace and the Great Wall at Badaling.
    With such a mature ability in receiving tourists, Beijing will be an ideal
    tour destination to get more of an idea of China as a country, and moreover as
    a cultural gathering place for artists and musicians. Airlines connect Beijing with more than 110 cities at home
    and abroad, while the city boasts a fine railroad and highway system for local travelers.
    Urban construction has brought new changes to Beijing, resulting in a unique combination of
    ancient civilization and modern metropolis.

Comments are closed.

More Stories
Bruschetta tomato-oregan- Photo G. Giustolisi
Italian Notebook: How to Make the Perfect Italian Bruschetta