Exploring Tea Fields in China

By: Charlotte Middlehurst

December 30, 2014

Originating in China as a restorative and medicinal beverage, it’s no surprise that tea tours do well in Shanghai. Many of them, however, fail to live up to the hopes of tour-goers. The reason for this is that operators can charge extortionate amounts of money for ominous bags of dried-up leaves – leaving tourists with a bad taste in their mouth. A better option is to sip at the source and visit the tea fields in China on your next trip to Shanghai.
Exploring Tea Fields in China
Tea field at Hangzhou’s Longjing village © Vladimir K/Flickr

One-hour south west of Shanghai by speed train is Hangzhou, home to the “Dragon Well” hill (or Longjing), one of the most famous tea fields in China. A playground for the emperors of yore, Hangzhou has for centuries been a favourite place to rest, recuperate and, of course, drink tea. In the 13th century, the Venetian explorer Marco Polo famously visited the city, deeming it “greater than any in the world”, giving some indication of its former wealth. Although the city has modernised, the tea fields continue to be harvested using the same, traditional techniques.

Exploring Tea Fields in China
Female workers plucking leaves by hand © zhaojiankang/Thinkstock/iStock

The best brews undoubtedly come from “Dragon Well Imperial Tea Garden”. Hovering above the city, its green terraces stretch on for miles and are inhabited by straw-hatted women who still pick each individual leaf by hand. The best time to go is in spring, from March-June when the temperatures are mild. Happily, this coincides with tea harvesting season. To get there, most local tea factories and hotels run tea-picking tours with English-speaking local guides who know the plots like the back of their hands. These cost £80-£100 per day. The second option is to go it alone.

Exploring Tea Fields in China
Hangzhou’s famous tea terraces © zhaojiankang/Thinkstock/iStock

The best way to ascend is by mountain bike. From the West Lake area this will take around three hours cycling at a leisurely pace. Bike rental can be found in hotels and hostels, Four Eyes Hostel being one of the better-known ones. On the winding road leading up to the entrance, villagers crouch by the roadside flogging tea to passers by. Though this is better quality and better value than a lot of what you’ll find in Shanghai, you will still have to haggle.

Exploring Tea Fields in China
Traditional tea ceremony held in Hangzhou © Flickr/Picdrops

Most of Hangzhou’s fields are free or cheap to enter so once inside you can simply wander up to a farmer and politely ask if you can pick a few leaves. Get the timing right and you might be invited back for dinner afterwards. If not, the amble down will take you past a number of roadside restaurants filled with families enjoying a final cuppa at dusk.


Header Image: Rich pickings in Longjing’s harvesting season © Easy Tour China


Explore Shanghai and its nearby tea fields with Virgin Atlantic’s direct daily flights.


Have you visited any of the tea fields in China? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by Charlotte Middlehurst


Charlotte Middlehurst

Charlotte Middlehurst is a Shanghai-based journalist writing about culture, society, travel and business in the PRC. Since moving to China four years ago, she has written about everything from bird fighting tournaments, to Manga artists, to foreign investment opportunities. Charlotte is currently Sector Editor at Time Out Shanghai and Beijing and a proud Virgin Atlantic blog contributor. Her work has appeared in the Financial Times, New Statesman, Dazed and Confused, Monocle and the South China Morning Post. You can follow Charlotte on Twitter @charmiddle

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