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The Chinese dislike teabags. Only loose leaf tea counts in China and preferably varieties that have a rich history. Longjing is probably the most famous green tea in the country and is grown near Hangzhou. Even the Chinese parliament owns some of these highly desirable plants, the tea from which is only served to heads of state.
As well as being famous for its refined taste, Longjing tea is also the stuff of legend. Literally translated, its name means Dragon Well Tea and it comes from a village in the hills near Hangzhou’s West Lake. One legend says a dragon resides in the well, while another attributes the movement of the well water to the shape of a Chinese dragon. While no-one can be sure of the real story, everyone agrees that the quality of this tea is unparalleled.
Each spring, hundreds of tea pickers start work in the hills south of Hangzhou’s West Lake. Here they harvest the finest leaves and bring them to the factories in their baskets, where they are roasted in a wok by the ‘tea masters’ to preserve the flavour. Every second counts and only the masters know when the leaves are ready. Longjing tea is available in 6 different grades. The most superior quality consists of uniform leaves that are brewed into an extremely delicate tea. Dragon Well Tea Village is the town of the famous well and the perfect place to sample the finest teas in one of the tea houses. A little further you’ll find the China Tea Museum, which features huge plots of land dedicated to displaying the art of cultivating, drying and tasting green tea.
The quality of the tea from Hangzhou is said to have been discovered in an amazing way. During one of his travels, Emperor Qianlong saw the tea pickers of Hangzhou working. He helped them with their work but then had to return to Beijing. Back home, he made tea with the leaves he had picked for his sick mother. Both of them loved it, and from then on Hangzhou tea was served in the Imperial Court. Emperor Qianlong granted imperial status to 18 bushes at the Hu Gong Temple in Hangzhou. These tea plants are still in place but now belong to the parliament. You can take a look but picking the leaves is strictly forbidden: guards with dogs keep a careful eye on everybody. Unless you are good friends with the president, this tea is far beyond your reach!
“Guard dogs and guards ensure that nobody picks the imperial tea leaves”