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The Living Environment of Tea

Avery long time ago, there was an old lady living in the village of Longjing. There were 18 wild tea trees growing beside her house. Travellers often stopped by at her place for a short rest before they would continue their journeys. So the old lady put out a table and a couple of benches and served the passing travellers with wild tea. After a while, her generosity became quite well-known.

One winter, it was close to the New Year. It has been snowing for days, Her wild tea trees were about to freeze to death. But more busy travellers pass by her house, Seeing the worried face on the old lady, an old man asked her, "How are you? Are you prepared for the New Year's ?"

The old lady sighed, "Not to mention the New Year's , those tea trees are about to freeze to death. There won’t be any tea for the travellers next spring."

The old man was moved. Pointing to the old stone mortar and pestle beside her door, he said, "Don't worry. You still have treasures. Why don't you sell that to me?"

The lady answered, "That old mortar isn’t worth anything. If you want it, just take it."

The old man gave the lady ten taels of silver and said, "I'll come back later to get this stone mortar and pestle."

The old lady thought to herself, "Such a generous man. He paid such a high price for my old mortar and pestle. I must clean it for him." So she carefully washed the old mortar and pestle and poured the used water under the wild tea trees.

When the old man came back and saw the shiny mortar and pestle, he said regrettably, "Such a pity! What you washed off is celestial spirit. Well, at least it’s good for those tea trees."

The next spring came. Plenty of new buds appeared on the 18 tea trees. They grew much better than previous years. At the spot where the stone mortar was washed, many new tea trees grew. The old lady, now happy as ever, continued serving tea to the passing travellers.

This is a legend about one of the most representative green tea variety, Longjing (Dragon Well) tea. The story is quite magical, but obviously not credible. It, however, does tell one truth: good tea needs "celestial spirit". In real life, this "celestial spirit" is the proper environmental conditions.

Tea trees are actually quite adaptable to a variety of environments. But extreme cold and heat are not ideal for their growth. Generally speaking, tea trees like a cool, mild, and humid environment. The best conditions are in the subtropical and tropical regions with an elevation of about 600 to 700 meters, especially those regions that are misty year-round. This is why tea originated in Southwestern China, and grows particularly well in countries like India and Sri Lanka. These regions have all the right living conditions for tea trees.

Besides geographical location and climate, soil quality is also very important. Tea trees like acidic soil, preferably with a PH value of about 5, and especially hate the calcium-rich limed soil Furthermore, like most other plants, tea trees also need the soil with the proper aeration, water movement and water retention capacity.

The best living environment for tea trees are roughly the same as the best environmental conditions for producing high quality tea for drinking. But there are some small differences. Especially for some particular famous tea with special flavours, special environments are required. This is why most famous tea varieties can only be produced in specific regions. When out of the specific geographic regions, even if all other environmental conditions are artificially replicated, the tea quality would still be inferior.

For the aforementioned Longjing Tea, its production is limited to an area of less than 50 square kilometres around the village of Longjing near the city of Hangzhou. This area has a unique microclimate that is particularly suitable for Longjing Tea, According to climatological data, this area receives more than 1400 millimetres of precipitation and about 1700 hours of sunshine annually. It has an average temperature of 16.2 degrees Celsius (61.2 degrees Fahrenheit) and a frost-free period of more than 250 days. This kind of climate provides plenty of sunlight during daytime for photosynthesis, and relatively low temperature at night to sufficiently slow down cellular respiration to allow accumulation of nutrients. The frequent mist in the valley blocks the infrared radiation in direct sunlight and forms diffuse light. This is a favourable condition for the biosynthesis of amino acids, theine, aroma compound, catechin, and vitamin C in the chloroplasts. The persistent mist also helps maintain the humidity of air, thus preventing the protoplasm in tea tree cells from changing into cellulose, so that the leaves remain tender and delicate. The soil here is very deep layered and has a high concentration of quartz sandstone. So it holds a perfect balance between water movement and water retention capacity. The abundance of vegetations in the surroundings provides plenty of organic matter for the tea trees as nutrients.

Such a small area of ideal environmental conditions, however, still exhibits differences within it, because the smallest change of environment shows up in the quality of the tea. The production area of Longjing Tea has traditionally been subdivided in four quadrants, Lion, Dragon, Cloud, and Tiger. The very best tea is produced from the Lion Peak quadrant Those 18 tea trees in the legend have been given the "Royal Tea" title by Qianlong Emperor of Qing dynasty more than 200 years ago. To this day, they still live under the Lion Peak.