Among the rituals I observe every morning when I arrive bleary-eyed to work, nothing perks up my senses more than the moment I open the little cobalt blue canister in my desk drawer and take that first whiff of West Lake Longjing, or “dragon well” tea leaves.
The aroma of those lightly roasted leaves recalls memories of fresh tea on the bushes while meandering through high mountain fields in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. Even just wandering through those fields in my mind, prompted by the sight and scent of longjing tea leaves, delights me on the most dreary of days.
My allegiance to the stuff runs so deep that I always prepare a stash of it whenever I travel, eschewing the free Lipton bags in hotel rooms or morning brews at a breakfast buffet for a steaming cup of this treasured tea.
Blame it on my husband Jun, who spoiled my taste buds by introducing me to what has long been his favorite morning ritual. He’s a native of the Hangzhou region, where consuming green tea has long endured as a tradition and culture throughout the year. In Hangzhou, even on the chilliest of days in January and February, you’ll still find people bundled up in down jackets and hats nursing a cup of longjing.
I’ve tried explaining this to my colleagues in Beijing from more northern climates in China, who insist I shouldn’t consume this green tea in winter, claiming it’s “too cold” for my stomach from a Chinese traditional medicine perspective. They sometimes try to tempt me with teas they deem more suitable for cooler temperatures, such as the eight-treasures brews bobbing with jujube dates and goji berries, or black varieties like Pu’er.
While I appreciate they mean well, I invariably refuse with a polite and amiable smile, knowing that only a sip of longjing will truly pick me up in the mornings, a sentiment shared by my husband and many others.
The arrival of March inevitably turns my thoughts to this tea, as this month sees the first harvest of the spring longjing. The leaves, plucked off the bushes before the coming of Qingming Festival in April, are considered the most tender of the year, and command the highest prices. I’ve sampled it a handful of times, luxuriating in its delicately sweet fragrance and flavor.
Nearly two years ago, I traveled back to Hangzhou for a video shoot that included a visit to the restaurant Charen Cun, nestled within the city’s longjing tea fields. I walked through the terraces of jade-green bushes along with the owner of the restaurant, who had inherited the fields and tradition of tending and appreciating longjing tea from his own father. Hovering over one of the bushes, he pulled a small bunch of leaves off with a gentle tug and placed them in my hands. They were a light and exuberant green, a shade recalling the uplifting joy of warmer spring days and the return of more sunshine. I tucked into my pocket those leaves, which were the most precious souvenir of my trip, a real physical reminder that I had stepped among the fields of my most favorite tea.
Save your black teas for someone else. You can chide me all you want over drinking West Lake Longjing in the chill of a March morning, but I’ll never give it up. Nothing but longjing tea for me, please.