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  • Writer's pictureCristina Dwyer

Green Tea Immersion

Updated: 5 days ago

While the black tea has been a Western staple for quite some time, the green tea is a relative newcomer. We’ve come to embrace it mostly for its health benefits, as a natural remedy for different ailments, and its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. But, honestly, would you drink it for sheer pleasure? Personally, I had to talk myself into having a cup of green tea or get some credits with a matcha latte, simply because I didn’t like the taste. The big shift happened for me after moving to China. Here I discovered the whole leaf green teas with aromas I've never experienced before, a far cry from the bland taste of the average tea bag.


The tea plant, possibly the oldest cultivated plant in the world, traces its origins back to China, where records date its cultivation for the last 2500 years, and claims are that it may have been known as far back as 5000 years ago. Initially a privilege of the imperial court and the wealthy, tea has gradually spread across China, becoming a national beverage. The Chinese held a tea monopoly until, according to the legend, Buddhist monks smuggled it to Japan. There, it mirrored its Chinese beginnings by starting as a privileged classes' drink, and later becoming more accessible.

From China, tea made its way to Europe with returning sailors and Christian missionaries, and to the New World with trading merchants. While tea is now grown globally, including in Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Cameroon, and Indonesia, among others, China remains the Tea's Mother Land.


Chinese tea culture is deeply rooted in the nation’s history, weaving in deep traditions and spiritual meanings. To truly grasp its essence, one would need to delve into countless books, documentaries, and firsthand experiences. This late March I took a few shortcuts by joining a group day trip to Hangzhou, a town just two hours southwest of Shanghai by train and subway. It was there where I had my first intimate encounter with the tea plant and its revered tea drinking ceremony.


Our tour guide arranged for our group to visit a small tea plantation in Hangzhou’s MeiJia Wu village, owned by a local lady, whom I got to know as Nana. As soon as we arrived, we jumped right into action. After getting off the bus, we were equipped with straw hats and baskets, given a brief orientation by Nana, and then set off to ‘work’. Let me tell you, my very first step among the tea bushes sparked a day-long of “AHA” moments in tea appreciation.


The tea plants require three to four years before they’re ready for harvest. During this time and afterwards, they’re pruned and shaped into bushy formations. When it’s time for harvesting, the dense bushes, with outspread branches and just about waist high, make it easy to pick the leaves by hand. Contrary to my expectation, it’s not the big shinny leaves that are picked, but the delicate tips or buds with 3-4 baby leaves. Any fewer, and the bud is too young; any more, and there’s more sorting later. Yes, this is all that is being used out of the plant for preparing the tea. These buds are meticulously sorted by hand, with some of the tiny leaves gently separated, marking the beginning of the detailed process of sorting and preparing the leaves for the different types and grades of tea.


The traditional and preferred way of tea harvesting is by hand, a crucial step in producing the highest quality tea. While it may sound straightforward, swiftly selecting the right buds while navigating through the dense and stiff bushes, is not that trivial. Unlike other parts of China or world, Hangzhou only has one harvesting season, lasting about 20 days and usually starting before the Qing Ming festival. This year, due to a prolonged winter, the tea wasn’t quite ready at the time of our visit, making it a bit more challenging to find the right candidates for the basket. However, even if the timing had been better, I doubt I would have filled my basked in a day - a normal quota for a tea picker. Nonetheless, I’m certain I picked enough to appreciate the labour that goes into the tea making.

Video note: I was very eager to try out my new little camera, but doing it as a first time tea picker resulted in a rather ... tilted perspective. Hope it won't give you a sore neck.

After demonstrating our potential as tea pickers (with no particular enthusiasm to pursue the career), we set off on foot toward the heart of MeiJiaWu, to visit and have lunch at Nana’s Life Studio, our host’s shop and home.


Despite the recent cold spell, the sun was shining, and the warmth surprised us as we walked along a small path, beside a creek, for about a half an hour.  Everywhere I looked, hills and valleys were draped in tea plantations like a huge green cloak, wrinkled only by the pickers’ narrow paths. There is an inexplicable allure to the tea terraces, drawing you in with their serenity and vitality.  It felt like strolling through an immense Chinese garden.


For the tea leaves to become green tea, their natural fermentation must be halted immediately after harvest. In LongJing, a village neighboring MeiJiaWu and renowned for tea processing, I witnessed the traditional method of pan roasting, used to achieve this. As a matter of fact, the tea variety we harvested that day was named after LongJing itself.


There’s more to tea processing that would have been interesting to see but, given our limited time there, we fast-forwarded to the best part: the tea drinking ceremony.


Following a delicious lunch, our host initiated us into the basics of the ceremony. We sampled a green tea from her last year harvest.

LongJing green tea

While I can't share pictures out of respect for others' privacy, I'll do my best to describe the experience and hope to have the chance to demo it to you in person.


The Chinese teacups are small and don’t have a handle. As a rule of thumb, the tea is to be enjoyed slowly, while serving and drinking.

Firstly, I put a few tea leaves in my cup and poured a little bit of hot water, without filling the cup. I drank it and waited for others to finish. Next, I poured again some water, this time in a more elaborated way: I took the kettle and did a circular counter clock movement on top of the cup; afterwards, I poured the water while moving the kettle vertically, down and up, slowly, three times, trying to not interrupt the flow of water, and filled up the cup. I passed on the kettle to the person besides me and enjoyed the tea.


The kettle dance felt really special - it felt as if it was preparing me for drinking the tea, the most rewarding moment of a tea journey. As an afterthought, it is possible that it also ensured the right water temperature for the infusion.

The tea aroma was slightly sweet and with a slightly tangy aftertaste, very light, no bitterness at all. The number of leaves used for the tea influences the intensity of tea and its taste. What is also beautiful about the high-quality green tea, is that you can have multiple brew rounds with the same leaves and, each time, there’s a different aroma. As a bonus, you can chew the leaves at the end or, along the way, if somehow they sneak in while sipping the tea.


My time immersed in the Hangzhou tea oasis gave me a deeper appreciation for this apparently simple beverage. Nowadays, when I open a tea box or, even better, a ‘tea cake’, I have a bit of a ritual.  I like to observe the colour of the leaves, inhale their aroma deeply—both dry and after infusion—and savour it slowly, allowing the flavours to unfold.


Tea packaging is an art form in itself, and, I must confess, that my fascination with green tea began with my first encounter with a Chinese 'tea cake'. While retail tea is often packaged in sleek stainless steel containers or individual envelopes, traditional whole leaf tea is stored and packaged differently. The leaves are tightly compressed into solid disc shapes, varying in size, and about 1cm thick. These 'cakes' are hard and require breaking along the edges to release the leaves for brewing. Though not the most convenient method, I do enjoy it as I find it adds to the ritual of preparing and savouring the tea.


I like to believe that my journey into the world of tea is far from over and I'm looking forward to exploring the tea culture in China and beyond.


For now, I've brewed up a few tea facts that I hope you find interesting too.

Have a sip and enjoy!

  1. The tea plant is an evergreen.

  2. The green tea and black tea originate from the very same tea plant. The difference in their colour and taste comes from the processing of the raw tea ‘leaves’: the black tea is fermented, while the green tea is not.

  3. The tea plants like heights! The are cultivated in the tropical and subtropical regions, at elevations from 600m to 2800m; the higher the altitude, the higher the quality.

  4. Like a fine vineyard, tea plants get better with age.  The high-quality tea producers pride themselves with plantations that are more than 20-30 years old.

  5. A professional tea taster can tell the elevation of which the tea was grown, the time of picking and what the weather was at the time of picking. Hmmm, this reminds me of master sommeliers. Seems that tea and wine have more in common than I could ever think of.

  6. The stimulant effect of the caffeine from a cup of tea is felt more slowly than the one produced by a cup of coffee, but it lasts longer.  

  7. There are four grades of tea, with respect of the leaf size: whole leaf, broken leaf, fanning, and dust. The quality of tea leaves is another matter that counts, but I can vouch that the more of a leaf you have the better the tea is.

  8. Matcha tea, used in Japanese tea ceremonies, is manufactured by stone grinding the best Sencha (Japanese tea variety) leaves into a fine powder.

  9. The Dutch merchants introduced the tea drink to England and New York.

  10. Chinese word for tea is chá (茶) . The Dutch used the term “thee” or “te”, which became more popular with the British, who eventually shifted the pronunciation to “tea”. Keeping closer with the original roots, the Russian word for tea is “chay”, which is probably where the Romanians got “ceai”.

  11. Technically speaking, the term “tea” should be used on the for the real deal, the green/black tea infusions, while “tisane” are for the fruity or herbal blends like dried berries, peppermint, chamomile, etc.



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6 comentários

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Convidado:
26 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

Very nice trip and a lot of information about tea.

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Convidado:
24 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

Cristina I enjoyed your blog. Fascinating facts. I think I will have a cuppa. ❤️

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T T
T T
19 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

What an interesting and fascinating topic! Great experience. I have to admit I turn my nose away from regular green tea (which I know is good for me) but I love anything matcha....as long as it has sugar in it!! Thanks for the great post - again!

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Cristina Dwyer
Cristina Dwyer
19 de abr.
Respondendo a

Thank you TT. I still like my coffee first thing in the morning but getting to like the green tea just as much was a surprise for me 😊

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Convidado:
19 de abr.
Avaliado com 5 de 5 estrelas.

Now I want some tea ! Nice hat ! lady

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Cristina Dwyer
Cristina Dwyer
19 de abr.
Respondendo a

Yeap, got to be stylish on the fields 😉

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