The harder you work for something, the more you’ll enjoy it. That’s why people appreciate gifts that they have to put together themselves. Knowing that, the tea at Huashan Teahouse has got to taste fantastic. Why? Because you can only get it at the top of Mount Hua — and you’ve got to risk a lot to get there.
The Path to the Top
Distance Makes the Tea Grow Stronger
Xi’an is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China for its fine cuisine, its many large pagodas, and perhaps most of all, for the world-famous Terracotta Army. Outside of the city, you’ll find the Qinling mountain range, and there, you’ll find Mount Hua (aka Huashan), one of China’s Five Great Mountains. It’s home to numerous Taoist temples and is a destination for many religious pilgrimages. One of the most famous of those temples is on the southernmost peak, an ancient place that has since been converted to a teahouse.
You might not think that a teahouse situated more than 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level would get much traffic. But apparently, the tea at this particular shop is enough to inspire some pilgrimages. You’ll have a two-hour trek just to get from Xi’an to Huashan, but that’s the easy part. In order to actually try some of this tea, you’ll have to ascend the Heavenly Stairs. Don’t let the name fool you: This journey is anything but divine.
A Steep Climb
You can rent a safety harness to get this cup of tea, but it’s not required. You might want to spring for it, though. The Heavenly Stairs are shallow, steep, and carved directly into the mountain. They also aren’t generally accompanied by any kind of guardrail. Even that’s not the most harrowing part of the trip. When you get higher on the mountain, you’ll get to a section where you’ll have to navigate on wooden planks — again, no guardrail, so there’s nothing but open air between you and a 7,000-foot drop. But the most heart-pounding part of all will have you wishing for those rickety slabs of wood. You’ll have to hang onto a chain bolted into the mountain and slot your feet into holds chiseled into the sheer rock face. Heaven help you if someone else is coming down while you’re heading up — you’ll have to squeeze past each other somehow.
Is the tea worth it? Sources say yes. Writing for NPR, Laurel Dalrymple writes that the tea on the mountain is made from pristine water from “snowmelt, rain, and mountain springs.” In older times, that water would have had to have been brought up to the peak by hand — imagine making that trek with more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of materials on your back. Fortunately, modernization efforts have made the trip easier, so the tea isn’t quite so hard to come by. For now, we’re just going to stick with Starbucks.