Tea trade vibes as Longjing aroma spreads to Sichuan county
The Longjing tea picking season will start in the hilly areas of Hangzhou soon; in fact within a month. This year, the tea plants will not only provide aromatic tea for locals, but also offer hope to farmers in Jiulong County of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Last month, about 50,000 little Longjing tea trees were transported from Hangzhou to Jiulong County. They have been planted in local plantations at an altitude of 3,000 meters.
Juilong boasts unparalleled natural environment with good air quality and fertile soil. As the only tea production area in Sichuan's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze, it has been selected as the pilot area for growing Longjing.
However, growing Hangzhou local variety at such a high altitude is not an easy thing. Because the air is substantially thinner at high altitudes there is substantially less oxygen. As altitude increases, atmospheric pressure also decreases. The climatic differences can bring difficulties in planting Longjing.
In a bid to smooth the planting process, the first batch of 500 tea plants, Longjing 43, was delivered to Jiulong last August. After months of cultivation, they have a better survival rate than expected.
"Longjing 43 is a national-level quality variety that is selectively developed by choosing from the vast Longjing production area," explained Shang Jiannong, chief professional from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
"This variety features better reproductive performance, earlier sprouting, and denser buds with aromatic smell and refreshing taste."
Hangzhou and Jiulong have signed contracts to cooperate in production and technological guidance. Hangzhou's Xihu District has dispatched local companies to provide free organic pesticides and professionals to introduce skills and techniques.
In 2021, Hangzhou's "pairing assistance" team began to coordinate with Garze and Guangyuan City in Sichuan to improve social development in the latter areas. Xihu District is assisting Jiulong County.
"Now, we are exploring a mode of 'industry plus town' and developing creative and practical projects," said Shao Jianhua, vice director of Jiulong County. "Growing Longjing tea in Jiulong County is an innovative project to help local farmers in a sustainable way."
Shao was assigned from Xihu District to Jiulong County in 2021. As a Hangzhou native, he grew up in Longjing plantation area. When visiting Jiulong's tea plantations, he came up with the idea of introducing Longjing to the county.
To verify the idea's feasibility, Shao invited professionals and veteran farmers from Hangzhou to study local villages, through which they discovered merits and demerits.
Jiulong County, situated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, has the world's highest-altitude tea plant communities with 800 years of history of producing Jiulong Rongpa tea (九龙绒巴茶).
Dating back thousands of years, tea seeds spread there along the ancient Tea Horse Road and grew up in local forests. However, due to gloomy business situation, local farmers didn't protect the ancient tea trees for a long time. Gradually, cornfields replaced some of the original tea plants.
Jiulong County is also located in a river valley and is shrouded in mist all year around. The natural environment gives local tea a strong potential to promote quality and carve out a market. Hangzhou tea firms are now trying to take advantage of the merits and set up new production lines in the county.
"These little Longjing trees will produce tea leaves three years later in Jiulong. We have planned a scheme of planting, picking, processing and selling. As for the planting work, a team has been set up to offer technical guidance through digital platforms. Professionals have been dispatched there to coordinate with local farmers," Shao pointed out.
"Introducing Longjing tea to the high-altitude plateau is a trial for us. The ultimate goal is to support the local tea industry and form a famous local brand that could bring more income to farmers."
Last year, Zhejiang Tea Group introduced Jiulong Rongpa Tea in SIAL Paris, the world's largest food innovation exhibition, in a bid to carve out an overseas market for the ancient tea. That was also a trial to promote the traditional agricultural product in other countries.