Longjing Village: Hangzhou’s ultimate green tea experience
If Marco Polo had traipsed through Hangzhou in a single day, he probably would've left the city remembering three things -- West Lake, beautiful women, and dragon well tea (龙井茶). Fast forward about 800 odd years and that still holds true.
One of the most prized and expensive teas in China, dragon well green tea has a light yet unmistakable fragrance and calming taste.
Known locally as Longjing, the best harvests are traditionally reserved for government officials and the wealthy elite.
And the best way to laugh in their faces and cop free samples of the stuff is to skip the storefronts and teahouses and head straight to the source -- Hangzhou’s Longjing Village (龙井村).
Longjing Imperial Tea Garden (老龙井御茶园)
The most famous tea garden in the village is Longjing Imperial.
Located at the rear of the village, the tea garden is surrounded by incredibly idyllic terraces roamed by straw-hatted harvesters who pick each leaf by hand.
The grandiosely named garden is something of an out-of-the-way tourist spot, but that in no way diminishes the sheer beauty and tranquility of the place.
The compound covers a tranquil Jiangnan-style (south of Yangtze River) garden, a restaurant serving dishes cooked with Longjing tea leaves, indoor and outdoor teahouses, and a namesake well.
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Legend has it that the land occupied by Longjing Imperial was one of Qianlong’s favorite stops on his several trips to Jiangnan, and the Qing Emperor even planted 18 tea trees on the hill by himself.
Great tea, even better garden
Upon entering the garden, you'll find yourself at the foot of the hill into which the entire garden has been landscaped.
The outdoor space is flanked by a giant teapot and a pair of traditional-style buildings looming overhead, stone stairways crisscrossing upwards and beckoning the visitor to ascend further.
Once inside, you'll find the grounds very thoughtfully laid-out, with narrow stone paths twisting alongside creeks and under traditional wooden walkways. All of these are amidst heavily forested environs that make visitors feel as if they're wandering through somebody's private hideaway.
The origin of Longjing tea's name, the dragon well, is near the entrance. Although this is not the exact well the green tea was named after -- the tea took the name of the whole village -- the resort uses the spring water from the well to irrigate its renowned tea leaves.
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Grassy terraces set with tea tables made of lacquered tree trunks sit adjacent to small teahouses and the garden's tiny museum, which displays photos showing the company receiving high-ranking officials.
Follow the paths back as they wind up steps and into bucolic tea plantations that just simply scream to get lost in.
My first visit to the garden was actually in the late evening, with the trees, narrow stairways, and secluded tombs and pavilions subtly illuminated by carefully placed nighttime lighting.
It left such a deep impression on me that I ended up returning six years later to celebrate my wedding there. A lazy afternoon's visit certainly won't disappoint.
A walk throughout the garden takes about 30 minutes.
Picking tea leaves at Longjing Village
To head home with some fine green leaves, you can buy Longjing tea directly from any of the villagers, who will try their best to lure you into their homes.
Prime tea harvest season is generally from late March to end of summer, with the March/April harvest fetching upwards of RMB 6,000 per kilo.
The other option is simply plucking the tea leaves yourself.
There are two ways to do this: either join a tour of Longjing with tea-picking included (the cost for an English-speaking private tour guide is around RMB 800 per day) or simply climb up into one of the surrounding plantations and politely ask one of the tea farmers if you can pick alongside them.
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If you're lucky enough, you may even be invited back to the plantation owner's home to watch how the tea leaves are prepared by hand, a practice that takes years to perfect.
Getting there from downtown Hangzhou:
By bus: from the bus stop on Tiyuchang Lu (体育场路) in front of the post office just east of Wulin Square (武林广场), take No. 28 bus to Qu Yuan Feng He stop(曲院风荷站); walk south a few meters to the Yu Quan stop (玉泉站); transfer to No. 27 bus and ride to Longjing Cha Shi stop(龙井茶室站); walk west to the last fork in road, turn right and go to the end to find the tea garden.
By taxi: fares from downtown should be about RMB 35-45.
Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit.
From Shanghai: catch the high-speed train to Hangzhou from Hongqiao Railway Station, take taxi or B2(区间) bus to Wulin Square, then follow previous directions.
Longjing Imperial Tea Garden (老龙井御茶园)
148 Longjing Lu
+86 571 8798 0905, +86 571 8796 0843
8:30 a.m.- later
Latest reservation for dinner is 7 p.m.
Admission: RMB 10