Linh Yen

Longjing tea always tops the list of China’s ten most renowned types of tea.

Longjing tea

  “Heaven above is matched with Suzhou and Hangzhou below” is a boastful proud  claim that Chinese people love to make about the heavenly scenery of Suzhou and Hangzhou. In this heaven on earth, Longjing tea – a famous specialty for centuries – always tops the list of China’s ten most renowned types of tea.

 Longjing tea is planted in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, China. This region is indisputably blessed with scenery that leaves mortals enthralled, such as the “Ten Finest Scenes of West Lake (Xihu)”, a moderate climate, and favorable weather. To admire the scenery of Xihu and stop by Meijia Village – home to Longjing tea, is virtually a pilgrimage for enthusiastic tea drinkers visiting Hangzhou.

A Chinese man produces Longjing green tea in his tea plantation

The entry to Meijia Village mesmerized me with lush green furrows of tea, dotted with faint human figures picking tea leaves in a bucolic rural setting. It filled me with peace of mind. According to legend, when Emperor Qianlong visited Hugong Shrine, which has 18 tea bushes by its entrance, the emperor was invited to enjoy a cup of green tea. He was astounded by its mild, lingering aftertaste. Sipping the tea, he caught sight of the tea bushes leaning over a nearby well in the sinuous shape of a soaring dragon. Moved by the refined tea and that special scene, Emperor Qianlong named the illustrious specialty of Hanzhou “Longjingcha” (the dragon in the well).

Longjing tea fields in Hangzhou

As Emperor Qianlong was chatting and picking tea with farm girls in front of Hugong Shrine, he heard that Empress Dowager Chongqing was bedridden. He immediately put some tea in his sleeves and returned to the court. When he visited the Empress Dowager’s sick bed, she asked him about the lingering aroma swirling around them. Emperor Qianlong suddenly remembered the tea in his sleeves and ordered his servants to brew a cup of tea for the Empress Dowager. Miraculously, after sipping some tea, Empress Dowager Chongqing felt energized and praised the tea as a “wondrous herb”. Emperor Qianlong immediately proclaimed the 18 tea bushes in front of Hugong Shrine “the Dedicated Tea”, to be picked and processed into a specialty dedicated to the Empress Dowager. After that, Longjingcha rose to prominence. The 18 original tea bushes in the “dedicated tea garden” have been preserved.

Longjing tea is typically steeped in a cup or a glass tea pot

Even now, Longjing tea is still picked and roasted by hand. Tea leaves picked at the optimal time are roasted according to secret recipes in each tea workshop. The secrets of making Longjing tea are passed down from generation to generation, with a focus on the roasting temperature and many processing steps. Tea artisans reveal that roasting the tea leaves is daunting. It takes great perseverance to produce authentic Longjing tea that retains the tea’s essence. Artisans must watch the temperature carefully and press and stir the grated tea leaves in a saucepan.

Longjing tea is still picked and roasted by hand

Longjing tea is typically steeped in a cup or a glass tea pot through which the motion and swelling of the dried tea bulbs may be observed. Initially, the tea is put in a glass and soaked long enough for the tea bulbs to swell. The remaining water is then poured into the glass and left for five minutes before the lid is put on. The most salient feature is that the roasting determines the color and shape of the tea leaves, as well as their aroma when steeped in boiling water. Well-roasted tea turns yellow-green and produces a refined aroma when steeped. Hangzhou locals insist that the finest tea is made with water from Hubao Stream, which is boiled and left to cool to 80oC. The pure spring water flows from a canyon and tastes mildly sweet, as the bestowed essence of heaven and earth contributes to its signature aftertaste. When pouring, the tea pot is raised and slowly lowered up to three times in order to stir the tea bulbs without using tools. A handful of tea can be re-used three times, with the second steeping said to produce the best, most aromatic, and most beautifully yellow-green tea.

Longjing tea

Many legends are associated with Longjing tea, the scenery of the Jiangnan region, and its iconic Xihu scenes. Travelers to Hangzhou should definitely admire the fairy tale scenery of West LakeXihu and sip some aromatic Longjing tea – an elixir of nature, cherished and steeped with mortal labor and devotion.