This summer I had the opportunity to visit China and see one of our tea plantations. I was excited to visit Longjing, which is just north of Hangzhou. After spending most of the summer in Ireland, I was surprised by the heat.
We had to drive to the plantations as they are based in the mountains, far from airports and the hubbub of the towns. We drove through the mountains, passing many beautiful plantations nestled in the steep slopes. When we arrived at Longjing I was greeted with the fresh green smell of the plantation. For me those first moments, where your senses are full or the aroma of tea trees are some of the most magical.
Longjing is famous for its dragonwell tea. This is considered the National Tea of China, and the process for cultivating and processing is one of the most long and complicated I’ve come across. Dragonwell (Longjing) is made of tender tea shoots, and not leaves. The best Dragonwell is picked in early spring. It is hand picked and 1kg can have over 80 000 shoots.
I had the pleasure of walking through the vast plantations, where it was easy to see the careful labour that is put into manufacturing this prized tea, everywhere I looked there was vast expanses of green stretching up the hills around me.
I was given a tour by the farmer who owned the plantation and I was impressed by the care he put into growing the tea. He was extremely passionate and explained with enthusiasm what goes into producing this high grade tea.
The care he puts into his tea is rewarded because the “real” Dragonwell is one of the most expensive teas. “Dragonwell” has recently fetched as much as 10000 euro for 200g at an auction. Similarly, the land prices for the authentic growing area have skyrocketed, with many of the farmers now being millionaires (due to the high price of the tea, but also due to its relatively easy access from Hangzhou and the constant stream of Chinese tourists visiting and buying tea in the area.)
Once tea is harvested, it is withered, and then quickly roasted on the same day for a short period. The roasting is done using bare hands to allow the roaster to feel his work-- it takes a novice many years to master this art. There is a huge amount of pride associated with the preparation of this tea and I was excited to finally get to taste it.
My trip culminated in the tasting back at the house. This was an unusual experience as this is the first time I’ve visited a plantation in which the Chinese are more relaxed. Perhaps, this is due to the value of this exquisite tea. The tea-tasting was relaxed and we sipped their finest samples as some of the family played an elaborate board game for several hours.
I left Longjing, safe in the knowledge that the dragonwell tea was of the best variety and with warm memories of their sloping plantations and careful harvesters. It’s always a pleasure to meet those that are most passionate about tea.