After spending the last 7 months and 3 vacations stuck in Shanghai we were resigned to our spring break being the same. But at the 11th hour, literally the Friday afternoon before we finished, we got an email to say that we can travel to other low risk areas in China. Yippee!!!
While lots of my colleagues headed straight to the beach at Sanya (known as the Hawaii of China) we opted for a more cultural experience with a trip on the bullet train to Hangzhou.
Hangzhou is about 4 hours away from Shanghai by normal train but by high speed train it takes just over 1 hour (which is quite incredible when you think about it). We were delighted to be able to get out of the city and into a more rural area. The air quality has been good this week in Shanghai but we have recently had yellow fog and some very nasty pollution days.
Hangzhou is a Tier 2 city in China and has a population of 10 million, so when I say go out to the countryside, it’s all relative. Our destination was actually the west lake area which is a scenic spot and from there to the tea plantations. This was a drive of approx an hour from the train station.
Tea is big business in China and in fact the UK originally got all its tea from here. The tea in Hangzhou though, is a specialty green tea and it is so highly prized that most of it does not make it outside of Hangzhou.
We began our trip dressing as tea pickers with traditional hats (needed against the sun) and baskets which were surprisingly comfortable to wear.
The type of tea grown here is called Long Jing which means ‘Dragon well’ and it is an exclusive tea. One of the reasons for that is that it is picked only once a year and the picking season lasts only about 6 weeks. So if it rains the workers have to carry on picking because there is not a moment to lose. They are given these waterproofs though. Fortunately, although overcast, it didn’t rain during our visit.
We were given access to the tea terraces belonging to one family and we walked up narrow paths between the tea bushes to get some simply stunning views
It was wonderful to be outside in the fresh fragrant air surrounded by tea.
The ladies who do the picking get paid approx £20 per day and they pick from 6-6. Once up on the terraces they don’t leave, food is brought out to them. But most of these people do this job for fun rather than as their living. They do it to help out. It’s a real labour of love.
The leaves that they pick are the young tender shoots and not the darker tougher leaves. Like the pale green leaf below.
There are tea plantations all over but the most prized and better quality tea is grown high up. This is because the higher up you go the colder it is and the tea grows more slowly which gives it a better flavor.
It would take all day to pick a full basket (if that)
The leaves are then taken down to the village to be dried and roasted. Mostly this is done in a machine but the more expensive varieties are roasted by hand which is a highly skilled process. You need to take out a small mortgage to buy some of that.
Interestingly, we saw several tombs dotted around the terraces. Normally Chinese do not go near graves but these tombs are strategically placed among the tea so that the spirits of their ancestors can guard the terraces (& the family business)
And then down to lunch where we had wonderful exotic dishes such as this one which is pork ribs in tea!!! I would never have thought of combining those two ingredients!
I am not a huge fan of green tea as I find the taste can sometimes be a bit bitter but this was very different. You can see here that all the shoots have sunk to the bottom which is a sign of good quality. But more than that, the stalks are floating upwards and the leaves downwards. I have never known tea to do that before!!! It actually tasted very smooth and refreshing. I was pleasantly surprised.
If you ever get the chance I would highly recommend this trip.