West of Hangzhou’s West Lake, beyond the Twin Peaks Rising in the Mist, rolling hills bear tufted rows of the very best tea in China. The Longjing village (龙井村 longjing cun) at the heart of the area gives its name to this sought-after tea, longjing or dragon well green tea. This is the Napa Valley of tea, the finest terroir of the most lauded tea in all of China, and right now is its harvest season. The highest grade of longjing tea is called Mingqian (明前), as the youngest and most delicate leaves are picked before (前 qian) Qingming Festival (清明节 qingming jie). Qingming or Tombsweeping Day falls on April 5, so this past week kicked off this spring’s picking season.
A short twenty minute cab ride from Hangzhou will wind through the valleys and bring you to the center of Longjing, a village of a few scant streets radiating into the hills and valleys. Families eat midday meals in front of the houses lining the streets, and villagers offer you to taste the leaves which they have harvested in the surrounding hills and roasted on site. Other paths stretch out from the center of town, up into the tea fields themselves, where no one seems to mind a tourist taking a hike or a picnic overlooking the village.
The best longjing tea is served by the cup, not by the pot. The water is poured at 80˚C (175˚F) instead of full boiling. You may be served a glass cup for viewing the leaves as they steep; wait to drink until they descend in the cup looking like underwater foliage. The flavor is light and refreshing.
West Lake and the Hangzhou environs are currently enjoying a beautiful spring, with pale pink trees and golden wildflowers blossoming in all corners of this eastern Chinese city. While each season opens up a special treasure in Hangzhou, a visit to Longjing this April may be one of the best ways to celebrate Qingming Festival and welcome spring this year in China. Read more about the food and drink of Hangzhou and the mystical West Lake in China Tea Leaves 杭州 Hangzhou.