CHI NA

Hangzhou: Agricultural and artisanal

PHOTOS BY MATTHEW WEXLER

posefully discards the first batch. The
second pouring is for consumption as
the blooming leaves reach their optimum
flavor profile with complex, herbaceous
notes and a clean, earthy finish.
While nothing glamorous (this particular tasting is set amid abandoned gym
equipment and clotheslines), the tasting
is a chance to witness a true slice of life in
Hangzhou’s tea-farming community.

Above, Lina Yuan of the Yuan Family Farm, a Hangzhou tea plantation that offers tours showing how tea
leaves are prepared for brewing. Right, a calligrapher at work at the Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society.

By Matthew Wexler

T

raveling to China is no
small feat, but upon arrival, the country offers centuries’ worth of
cultural experiences set
against a vast backdrop spanning
more than 3.7 million square
miles.

While many travelers set their sights
on Beijing (the Great Wall and the Forbidden City), Chengdu (giant pandas and
Sichuan cuisine) or Shanghai (art deco
architecture and international shopping),
Hangzhou is a lesser-known gem that offers culturally enriching experiences that
are worth building into an itinerary. A

high-speed train will transport travelers in 45 minutes
mic capital
from Shanghai to this dynamic
city of the Zhejiang province, which I visited last fall at the invitation of the Hangzhou Tourism Commission.

Tea for two
It’s hard to believe that Hangzhou is
home to more than 6.2 million residents
when visiting the Meijiawu Tea Village.
Tucked into the city’s southwest corner,
the village is adjacent to Hangzhou’s most
famous attraction: West Lake, a manmade lake that was declared a Unesco
World Heritage site in 2011 and offers a
bucolic backdrop for lakeside strolls, boat
tours or partaking in a picturesque meal.
For those seeking a deeper sense of
Hangzhou’s rich agricultural history, an
immersive tea ceremony at one of the

family-run tea plantations enables visitors
to participate in a local ritual that has been
passed down for generations as well as sample the famous Longjing green tea. A visit to
the Yuan Family Farm begins with a casual
walk among the tea bushes, which from a
distance are reminiscent of rolling wine
vineyards. Get a little closer, though, and
you’ll see delicate white and yellow flowers
blooming amid the densely planted bushes.
After harvesting, drying and roasting,
which occurs seasonally and attributes
to slightly nuanced variations in the end
product, the tea is ready for steeping. At
upwards of $150 per pound, technique
is key. Lina Yuan escorts visitors to the
open-air rooftop of the family’s home,
where she steeps the tea leaves then pur-

Signed and sealed
At more than 100 years old, the Xiling
Seal Engraver’s Society embodies some
of China’s most notable artisans. Seal
engrav
engraving
and calligraphy can be traced
b
back to the Ming dynasty, but it
w
wasn’t until 1904 when a national
aacademic society was established to
p
preserve the craft and train future
g
generations.
Visitors can try their hand at carvin
ing their own seal, but be prepared to
n
navigate the upward climb among the
so
society’s
ancient building complex.
En
Entering
at the foot of Gushan Hill,
th stone path switchbacks among
the
Ba Hall, the Shanchuan Yulu Library
Bail
an the Yangxian Pavilion, among
and
oth pagodas and pavilions that offer
other
ple
plentiful
photo opportunities.
I
Inside
one of the pavilions, a master
engraver provides all of the tools necessary to create a personalized seal based
on a Chinese character. Participants first
transfer the chosen symbol onto a stone
block, then carefully chip away using a
blunt knife. The intricate carving requires
a deft hand, but regardless of the outcome, the master’s optimistic instruction
creates a welcoming environment and the
final outcome, a personalized calligraphy
on rice paper, provides an original and
authentic keepsake.
CYTS Tours, one of China’s largest inbound travel companies, can help facilitate personalized experiences in the Meijiawu Tea Village, Xiling Seal Engraver’s
Society and more. See www.cytstours
.com.

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6/2/16 1:05 PM