December 30, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
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Written by Charlotte Middlehurst