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My green tea is better than your green tea

“It is such a nice place, with green mountains, clean water, wonderful tea, kindly people and beautiful view.” — Li Peng on Mei Family Village

HANGZHOU, Zhejiang — Hangzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in China, so on Tuesday Arthur and I played the role of tourists. We took a short bus ride to Mei Jia Wu, or Mei Family Village, a peaceful place full of white buildings, rolling green hills and tea plants — lots of tea plants. Mei Village’s sole reason of existence is the production of Longjin, or Dragon Well, tea, which the people of Mei Village not surprisingly say is the best green tea in all of China. And most tourists who visit Mei Village come for two reasons: to drink tea and buy tea. You see them arrive on their tour buses … and then you see them leave on their tour buses. No one seems to stay long: drink, buy, leave.

Well, Arthur and I didn’t arrive on a tour bus. We took public transportation, for a grand total of RMB 6, or around 75 cents. And instead of drinking tea immediately, we went directly to the source — the tea leaves themselves. We spotted a dirt path that meandered off from the main road and into the neatly planted rows of tea bushes that lined the hillside. We hiked to the top of a hill and were rewarded with a nice view of the village. You’ve got to work up a thirst before it’s tea-drinking time.

And working up a thirst is pretty damn easy in this weather. It was around 100 degrees yesterday, with high humidity and a scorching sun. All the villagers wore wide-brimmed straw hats to shield their skin from the rays. Female tourists sported pastel-colored umbrellas, which is pretty much standard practice during the summer throughout color-conscious China. Arthur and I , meanwhile, sweat — a lot. Arthur pointed to the sweat soaking through the front of my shirt, smiled and said, “Mickey Mouse.” Strangely, he’s not the first person to tell me the sweat stain on my chest resembled the Disney character. I don’t know, better than Goofy, I guess.

Back at street level, we spotted a man drying tea leaves down an alleyway. Seated, his legs straddling a large metal basin, he worked the tiny leaves with his bare hands against the worn metal surface that is heated to temperatures anywhere from 60 to 120 degrees centigrade. It takes him eight hours to dry just two kilograms of green tea leaves.

“And how do your hands feel at the end of the day?” I asked.

“You get used to it,” he said, holding out the palm of his hand, worn and stained black forever.

We were then invited into a building to try some Longjin tea … for free, but with the obvious hope that we would end up buying some. I was the only foreigner in town, so we were an easy mark. A smiley girl named Yan Jin Ping — badge No. 001 — took us through the finer points of tea production and consumption (in English!).

At Mei Village, they don’t drink tea, they eat tea, because they believe their leaves are good enough to eat. “No pollution,” Yan said, explaining that at Mei Village the entire production process, from planting to picking to packing, is done by hand. The women do the picking and the men do the drying. I asked why it’s not the other way around.

“Men are too slow,” Yan said. But it’s not because they are lazy. It’s because their hands are too big. At least that’s what Yan said.

(She mentioned that the Dragon Well Village, the tea village that Lonely Planet mentions, is too close to the city, and therefore its tea is not as good.)

“Green tea can help prevent cancer,” Yan said, before going through a laundry list of the drink’s health benefits. It can help you lose weight. It can moisten dry eyes. Yan said she drinks five to six thermoses of green tea a day.

“So you must be very healthy,” I said.

“Well, I also like to drink Coke,” she said with a grin. “Bad for teeth.”

We were drinking tea throughout the presentation. A couple pinches of Longjin tea are supposed to last through four or five cups of water. The second cup is supposed to be the best. Mine was fine, I thought. But, then again, I’m a guy who likes jasmine tea. And Yan informed me that’s the worst stuff out there. I, obviously, have not acquired a taste for tea.

And that’s a good thing — because the “best” teas are expensive. A 125 gram can of Mei Village’s finest is around RMB 300, or $36. The best tea is spring tea, leaves that were picked before the middle of April, when leaves are at their most tender. Yan let us examine some dried spring leaves and some summer leaves. Some smelled slightly of spinach and some kind of like chocolate. I forget which one was which.

Mei Village keeps its spring crop for its own sale and consumption. Yan pointed to the summer leaves and said, “This tea is not as good, so we export that to America.”

Click here for photos.

Dinner with the Hus: Dining with Arthur’s family I learned that Mr. Hu likes to slurp his Zhonghua Beer from a bowl, homemade wine that comes from the yangmei fruit is one vile concoction and, evidently, I pronounce the Chinese word for napkin (can jin zhi) perfectly. Unfortunately, all of my other attempts to speak Chinese to Arthur’s mom had to be translated by Arthur into, well, Chinese.

Notes from the road: I am typing this from a bus headed for Tiantai Mountain, a sacred spot about three hours southeast of Hangzhou. At the crowded bus station, Arthur noticed, “So many people are staring at you.” Well, just wait until we get to Tiantai — it doesn’t seem like many foreigners go there. As we boarded the bus a man stopped me to make sure I knew where I was going. Apparently, a few days ago a foreigner got on a bus bound for Tiantai … but he thought he was going to Shanghai. The man didn’t want me to make the same mistake.

07.21.2004, 5:39 PM · The Trip, Zhejiang


  1. I never been Hang Zhou before. but I know that’s a beautiful city, special West Lake. and it’s a great thing to see how people making the tea. then to taste tea. like long jing(Dragon Well), Wu Long etc. try the first morsel, smell good, try the second morsel, little sweet, try the third morsel, feel like in the fairyland. that’s why people always take some tea back home when I travel with them. even me.
    o. Dan. There is a famous bridge at West Lake. you should been there. It’s known by a folk story, “The story of White Snake”. and this bridge has another name as “Duan Qiao”, ask Authur, he will tell you. it’s a beautiful and Sad love story.

  2. Dan, it sounds like a great start to your trip. It will be great to read of your exploits. (Hmm, maybe some lonely planeteers could meet up with you for a rendezvous / travel partner)
    There are lots a neat places around Hangzhou; the temple and old pagoda make very nice visits, although the temple is incredibly tourist oriented….. OK, Chinese tourist oriented. They still don’t understand the American’s penchant for t-shirts and hats….. and spoons, keyrings, postcards, miniature statues, etc. And don’t forget to mention the great silk from the Hangzhou area. And of course, you will have to try the West Lake Beer. Mmm tasty!
    Look forward to the photos once you get them loaded on the site.
    Have fun, and stay safe!

  3. Gorgeous pictures, you made me homesick again. I used to go to Hangzhou for weekend getaways and vocations every year. One of my greatest experience is biking around the inner XiHu loop in early morning when there is few tourist around. It can be a good exercise sine one has to ride pass all the bridges. Then we will stop to drink green tea and relax, then go all the way back. Summer is hot in Hangzhou. But biking in the early morning breeze is a wonderful experience. Of course, we don’t wear Speedo and halmets, either…

  4. I often heard people in Hangzhou didn’t like Shanghainese that much when I grew up although it has always been called the backyard of Shanghai. I didn’t know how much of that was true or if it is still the case today. I also heard ” Qian Dao Hu “-thousand islands lake in Chun’an county 160 km (100 miles) west of Hangzhou is one of the biggest National Park in China. Supposely it covers an area of 143,321 acres of breath taking nature beauty.

  5. Dan
    I am Tony,I have not seen you for months.I miss
    but I have not seen your trip photos in hengfeng.I was eager to see it.
    thank you!

  6. Wait, you like jasmine tea better! That guy is right; that’s not the best tea. If you want though, try getting the fruit and flower type. Pretty good for a sweet tooth. Besides, there is another type of tea with tea leaves. If you leave it in your mouth and let it swish around, after drinking it, you could feel your cheeks expanding; it’s that sweet.

    I know, I sound like a tea expert, but you should ask my mother. She buys tons of tea whenever she gets a chance to go back to China. She just lets me taste the tea. :-)


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