As you sip a cup of tea watching the leaves slowly unfurl, steam warming your cheeks, consider the connection to grey skies, cold mountain winds, and frozen ground that you share with tea plants, dormant, conserving their energy, waiting for Spring. In the northern latitudes of tea-growing countries, what is happening in the tea gardens in December?
The short answer: not much. Almost all the workers have gone, except for the few who do some pruning of the tea bushes, remove old, unproductive plants, and work on making landscaping changes or road repairs. Equipment is fixed and readied for the next growing season. The few remaining packages of 2012 harvest teas sit untouched on dusty shelves; tea buyers and tourists have disappeared.
Throughout the coldest months of the year, tea houses, restaurants, and hotels in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, home of Long Jing (Dragon Well) green tea, continue to serve customers pots or glasses of jade-green tea leaves whose sword shape rises and then falls, signaling the infusion is ready to be enjoyed. In the dead of winter, these carefully harvested and skillfully manipulated leaves come alive in the cup. An herbaceous Spring aroma rises up, and fresh, vegetal notes swirl around the senses of taste and smell.
The tea plants on the foothills and terraced mountainsides of Shi Feng and Meijawu near West Lake are “sleeping” now. Like tea drinkers who live in regions with cold winters, the plants are preparing to endure the next few months of ice, snow, and bitterly cold winds. Fortunately for us, we have been left small amounts of the leaves from these special tea plants, leaves that echo the days of the warm sunlight and morning dew of late March/early April. As generations have done for thousands of years before us, we hold the cup in both hands, warm ourselves, close our eyes, and for a short time steal back lost moments of another season. This is the magic of tea, of the seasons, and of our connection to a plant half way around the world. Even in winter.