Monk Biancai honored as first of year's Longjing tea brewed

Wu Huixin
When the first basket of freshly picked Longjing tea leaves finish processing, local farmers brew them in front of the statue of Monk Biancai, the forefather of Longjing tea.
Wu Huixin
Monk Biancai honored as first of year's Longjing tea brewed
Ti Gong

Longjing tea is a precious legacy originating from Hangzhou.

Every year when the first basket of freshly picked Longjing tea leaves finish processing, local farmers brew them in front of the statue of Monk Biancai (辩才, an eloquent talent) in Faxi Temple, showing respect to the forefather of Longjing tea.

Biancai is believed to be the first person who began to grow Longjing tea during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). He led people to clear hill slopes for cultivation, laying the groundwork for today’s Longjing tea plantations.

“In fact, we don’t sell the first basket of tea. Instead, we offer a portion of the tea at Faxi Temple, followed by inviting elderly villagers to partake in a tea ceremony at Guangfu Temple,” said Xu Shengqiang, Party secretary of Longjing Village. “Longjing tea is a precious legacy left to us by our forefathers. Respecting seniors is part of the legacy.”

Situated in close proximity to the 18 ancient Longjing tea trees, Guangfu Temple served as Biancai’s residence during his later years. It was here that he honed his craft in tea cultivation and production, passing down his expertise to the local farmers.

Today, only two ancient stone doors from Guangfu Temple remain. However, the site is still esteemed as the origin of Longjing tea. On March 22, elderly villagers from Longjing Village were invited there to taste freshly brewed tea.

Monk Biancai honored as first of year's Longjing tea brewed
Ti Gong

Elderly villagers from Longjing Village are invited to taste freshly brewed tea in Guangfu Temple.

The tradition of preparing tea for visiting friends in China originated with Monk Biancai. A thousand years ago, his renown attracted numerous royal officials and scholars to his abode. The monk built a bridge across a stream and made it a rule that he would not cross the bridge while seeing off departing guests.

When Su Dongpo, one of the greatest academics in the Song Dynasty, was leaving, they had such a pleasant conversation that Monk Biancai inadvertently escorted Su across the bridge.

As a result, at the bridge’s end, people built the Guoxi Pavilion, which means “crossing the stream,” to commemorate the friendship between Su and Biancai. Today, the pavilion still stands.

In addition to protecting traditions, local departments have devised a novel method of engaging residents in the cultivation of tea plants. On March 24, 19 residents adopted 19 tea plots for a year, during which they can participate in tea-picking, frying and ceremonies organized by local authorities.

“We hope the activity could attract more people to experience the tea culture and become aficionados of Longjing tea,” said Lu Xiongwei, vice Party secretary of the West Lake Scenic Area Asset Group.

The adopted tea trees are in Meijiawu Village, one of the core areas of Longjing tea. The picturesque village dates back more than 600 years and is surrounded by green hills. Around 500 households there make their living by growing tea.

A ridge tracing the western edge of Longjing Village and the northeastern side of Meijiawu Village is named Shi Li Lang Dang. This ancient path, measuring “shi li” (5,000 meters) in length, served as a shortcut linking the Qiantang River and Longjing Village. The term “lang dang” signifies the ringing of bells, symbolizing a warm and joyous welcome extended to visitors.

The hiking route flanked by terraced tea plots, lush vegetation and folk houses leads to hamlets where visitors could sample authentic Hangzhou cuisine in family-run restaurants.

“We like outings and hiking. Adopting tea trees make me feel like a real farmer owning a plantation,” said a man surnamed Lai, who has adopted a plot for a year.

China’s traditional tea-making was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s list of intangible cultural heritage in 2022.

The item — traditional tea processing techniques and associated social practices in China — contains West Lake Longjing tea and the Jingshan tea ceremony in Hangzhou.

On March 28, local departments hosted a doucha competition to select outstanding tea-making performers. Doucha is a traditional folk competition that follows a series of rigorous procedures to select the finest tea leaves. Its origins can be traced back to the Song Dynasty, a time when tea was integral to society.

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