China National Tea Museum (Hangzhou)

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China rightly prides itself on many a first, and among all the Middle Kingdom’s firsts, the introduction of tea to the world easily ranks among the most appreciated. And whether you care for a cup of the stuff or not, the recently renovated China National Tea Museum (Zhōngguó Cháyè Bówùguǎn, 中国茶叶博物馆) is a wonderful place to get to know more about tea’s humble Middle Kingdom origins and exalted history.
Situated in the midst of the Longjing Tea Plantation, this free museum consists of a mix of exhibition halls, tea houses, gardens and pavilions covering some 3,500 sq m (4,185.96 sq yd). Spend a few hours roaming about, and you’ll glean a fine overview of the story of tea’s emergence from the primeval forest of present-day Sichuan and ascendence to a place of honor in imperial courts and in poets’ verses.
You’ll also learn a good deal about how tea in all of its varieties is grown, prepared and brewed, with the highlight coming in the form of a personal tasting in a simple but elegant private room. A knowlegable and skilled attendant introduces several varieties to the guests, then brews samples on a tradtional wooden tea tray using an array of specialized instruments, pots and cups. The tea served is of quality, and for the benighted sipper of the occasional cup of Lipton’s, the experience can be a revelation.
The Tea Museum’s main exhbition building features a Hall of Tea History, Hall of Tea Customs, the Hall of Tea Properties, and even the Tea Friendship Hall, with the Tea Categories Hall arftully displaying over 300 kinds of tea. Dioramas, interactive exhibits and displays of ancient tea wares combine with excellently rendered English explanations to impart just the right amount of information at just the right pace—you can see it all without experiencing Museum Fatigue (and even if you are a bit worn out by the end of it, there’s plenty of vivifying tea on hand to set you right).
Beyond the main exhibition, well-tended gardens, tea houses, pavilions and tea terraces await, making the Tea Museum an excellent destination for a half-day outing. Onsite dining is complemented by a string of quality local restaurants overlooking a stream running alongside tea fields covering the valley floor with a dramatic mountainside backdrop sweeping upward in the distance.
If the first sip of Hangzhou’s famous teas have you thirsting for more, make sure to check out the city’s other source of tea brewing water, Running Tiger Dream Spring.

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