Tea culture traveling in China

Tea, that most ordinary of beverages, was once so highly prized that traders, travelers and seafarers risked their lives to bring the precious cargo from China to the rest of the world.

Now, a small but growing band of tea aficionados is traveling across the country in pursuit of tea at its source, fueled by an appreciation of China’s ancient tea culture and traditions and a more modern interest in green methods of cultivation and artisanal production.

Tea tourism within China is still a relatively new phenomenon, gaining traction in the last few years and generally associated with an educated and upwardly mobile Chinese middle class.

Like good wine, tea’s final flavor is influenced heavily by terroir — the microclimate in which it’s grown.

For those interested in taking a tea tour, below are three starting points, corresponding to three of China’s most well known teas, each different in climate, geography and taste.

Longjing (Dragon Well) green tea

Located just south of Hangzhou province’s beautiful West Lake, Longjing is home to China’s most celebrated green tea, which is the color of jade and has the fresh aroma of chestnuts and cut grass.

The best time to visit the area is during China’s Qing Ming Festival (usually April) when most picking and roasting take place.

Longjing’s tea villages and plantations — many are open to the public

Wuyi Mountain oolong tea

Oolong tea, a fragrant partially oxidized tea midway between green teas like longjing and black teas like pu’er, has its origins in southern China’s Fujian province.

The most famous of Fujian’s oolongs, da hong pao or “big red robe” tea comes from Wuyi Mountain, a UNESCO-protected natural heritage site rich with rare and animal life, centered around the pristine Nine Twists River.

Southern Yunnan’s pu’er tea

Pu’er, a fermented and aged black tea with a complex, earthy taste, is considered the pinnacle of all Chinese teas.

Usually pressed into cakes, it’s allowed to age so that its complexity and depth of flavor increase over time (as does the price), again drawing comparisons to wine.

Pu’er, a fermented and aged black tea with a complex, earthy taste, is considered the pinnacle of all Chinese teas.

Usually pressed into cakes, it’s allowed to age so that its complexity and depth of flavor increase over time (as does the price), again drawing comparisons to wine.