Secret internal wholesale Long Jing market

Our learning about this secret internal wholesale Long Jing market located in the vicinity ofHangzhou was pure chance - one Chinese acquaintance accidentally gave it away in a private conversation. The thought of visiting the market would not leave us since. Fortunately, we had written down the market's address, so nothing seemed easier than simply showing the piece of paper with the address to some taxi driver. Yet we kept being refused a ride, which only piqued our interest. Finally, we found the person to take us there - the only one who agreed to the job was the driver who had been driving us around all week making the money “in bulk”, so to speak.

Having left downtown Hangzhou we were driving along the rural roads taking in everyday life detail of Chinese peasants, passing endless Long Jing plantations - long tidy rows of tea shrub, carefully planted on hill slopes in the shape resembling ancient amphitheaters – past straw hats of female tea-pickers, past tea merchants’ houses.



Finally, we stopped in the narrow merchant street, our eye catching a smallish country tea market for the locals, the place absolutely bare of the usual tarnish characteristic to large tourist places.

There was no touristy gloss, no pretty jars with tea, no tea ware or beautifully attired girls in national dresses – simply small market stalls, bags full of Long Jing, bamboo trays for sifting, cardboard boxes, rags for doing the cleanup, buckets, small trolleys, a pile of lime for preserving the Long Jing’s freshness, an amusing section selling clothes for tea pickers near the entrance, poorly rinsed tasting glasses. And a clearly perceptible aroma of sunflower seeds – the smell of fresh Long Jing.



Attracting everybody’s attention, under surprised and often disapproving glances we walked on deeper inside the market. The sellers looked confused, perhaps because it was their first time coming across Europeans here – the white barbarians. We were not tourists here, to whom they could sell their goods at a higher price, but strangers, conquerors, who had intruded upon their territory.



Long Jing is everywhere, spread on bamboo trays. Of various gradations, sizes, of barely perceptible tinges which register only with a professional. Everyone is busy – the younger men in their businesslike manner are doing the sifting, the elderly men – smoking and drinking tea in the shade; the women are doing the selling standing behind the counters. We are walking along, picking out the tea. Choosing it is not an easy task. In spite of years of experience you are often puzzled when it’s time to make a choice, since, for example, telling this year’s Long Jing from last year’s can be difficult. Besides experience, intuition is good help, sympathy or antipathy toward the seller, the atmosphere in general. The Chinese are chuckling looking at us. Price, as at any other market, is not fixed. Everybody listens to the price quoted by a neighbor in the next stall and immediately, on the spot, adjusts their own price. This is also a kind of a ritual. However, the Chinese are reluctant to bargain.



Finally, we’ve made our choice. We walk into a small shed belonging to a local tea family. The father is running things here; he is teaching his daughter the tea business. The girl is businesslike, reserved, friendly, though not overly so. She displays the samples and does the selling with a certain dignity to her manner. She sees that we know our tea, and a bit of professional competitiveness shows in her manner. Her displeasure is heated by too many professional questions we ask.

Having tasted several gradations and deliberated a little, we buy a kilo of her tea and ask her to package it into portions of 150 g each. As we found out later, the packages had been laminated carelessly, which was another proof of how unwelcome our presence had been at the market.

On our way home out attention was drawn by the rich houses of tea traders. Long Jing is in the ten of the best and the most renowned teas of China, and is sold to tourists at fabulous prices providing the owners of tea plantations with quite good income. If only these closed internal wholesale tea markets remained free of Europeans!