Bendi Stories: Artistry of Tea in Songyang  

WildChina > Destinations > Songyang > Bendi Stories: Artistry of Tea in Songyang  

With the arrival of spring in Zhejiang province, the tea farmers of Songyang, a farming county located on the lush misty mountains of the province’s southwest, get ready for the busiest time of their year: carefully selecting and picking fresh tea leaves to make the county’s key export: green tea. Picking the tender tea leaf shoots by hand remains the predominant method, ensuring that the resulting tea does justice to its name, xiang cha,  “fragrant tea”.  

While a historic tea-growing region for thousands of years, over the last three decades, Songyang has emerged as China’s largest green tea trading hub. Traders and tea enthusiasts from all over China gather here during the spring months to buy and trade green tea at the county’s Southern Zhejiang Tea Market, where it’s not uncommon for 60 metric tons (132,000 pounds) of tea to trade hands in a single day.  

In modern China, the popularity of livestreaming has made remote access to purchasing a limitation no more, and the tea traders in Songyang have taken full advantage of this trend. The tea merchants now spend their days promoting and selling tea online, as well as in-person in the market, resulting in a surge in the popularity and sales of Songyang’s xiang cha among tea enthusiasts across the country.   

Specialty blend tea in Songyang

Songyang’s serene beauty, rich tea culture, and warm communal atmosphere led our host, tea master Qing Yong, to uproot his life in Yunnan and set up a tea house in the old stone-paved streets of Songyang, which he refers to as “the last secret place south of the Yangtze”.  With his move, he brought with him the Yunnan method of roasting pu’er tea. At Qing Yong’s tea shop in Songyang, he serves a special blend paying homage to his roots and his new locale, mixing Songyang’s xiang cha and pu’er. The resulting cup of tea has a more fragrant, full-bodied flavor, adding pu’er tea’s earthy, woody flavor notes to the fresh, grassy, floral notes of the xiang cha. Beyond the roasting, the rest of the tea processing methods are quite similar,  from harvesting, drying, roasting, shaping/kneading to the final round of drying.

Bendi Stories: Artistry of Tea in Songyang  
Our host tea master Qing Yong, aka Ming Ji, serving his signature tea

It is in the final stages of processing, however, that the main difference between xiang cha and pu’er lies. In the final drying round, green tea is either machine-dried or pan-dried in a wok whereas pu’er tea is sun-dried or roasted, which darkens and ferments the leaves adding the signature woody, earthy notes to this famous brew. Listen to The China Travel Podcast’s “Tea in China with Jeff Fuchs” episode for our fascinating interview with Jeff Fuchs, a global tea expert, for a fascinating crash course in Chinese tea.

Bendi Stories: Artistry of Tea in Songyang  
The warm communal atmosphere at Mr. Qing Yong’s tea house

Visitors to Mr. Qing Yong’s tea house liken it to a community gathering space. While many a tea house serves as a quiet, private gathering space, Qing Yong’s tea house is a lively open space where locals and visitors alike gather around the hearth sipping the tea-master’s unique mixed brew, enjoying roast sweet potatoes and persimmons while exchanging stories, and getting to know each other.  

By Bilguun Munkhjargal

Produced by WildChina 碧山  
Cinematography & Editing by Charles Zhu  
Subtitles by Oreo Zeng, Qing Gu & Elena Shlykova  
A special thanks to:  
Tea master Qing Yong
Location:  Songyang County, Zhejiang Province, China