Alex_Hart Posted May 13, 2017 at 06:18 AM Report Share Posted May 13, 2017 at 06:18 AM As requested and thanks for abcd's beautiful posts, I'd like to give an (amateur) introduction to 龙井茶, or Dragon Well (green) tea. Sadly, I am new to the world of tea, and I don't have a real camera, so bear with me! Further, Dragon Well tea has a long (royal) history full of legends and myth, and I am ignorant of many of these stories. I will begin with the background before jumping into the tea itself – feel free to skip ahead, the earlier sections are unimportant if you just want to see and drink the tea. Introduction: Etymology 龙井茶, literally Dragon Well Tea, derives its name from a (water) well in 龙井村 on the outskirts of Hangzhou 杭州 in 浙江. Legend goes that Hangzhou had a dry spell that ran for several years, depriving much of the area of its water and emptying wells all across the city except for one. That this well never dried up was attributed to a dragon who came from the sea and lived in its depths, continuously refilling the well. The well has since been developed and now has a stone wall surrounding it – you can still see it in the old village. Actually, there are now two towns that bear the name Longjing and you should be careful when setting out. The original “Old Longjing” (where the famous temple once stood and was recently rebuilt) and other “New Longjing” (constructed around 2002/2003 for tourism purposes and largely filled with hotels and restaurants). Look for the one with the temple and the well. If visiting, also try to check out the 茶叶博物馆, a nice museum down the road from the original well devoted to the history of tea. They often have tastings of tea you can find in the gift shop at an inflated price. Region 龙井茶 actually refers to two regions. When making a purchase, the first is simply referred to as 龙井茶, but should be more accurately called 浙江龙井茶. The second is referred to as 西湖龙井茶. Both are from the province of Zhejiang 浙江, but the latter comes from the areas immediately surrounding 杭州 and its famous West Lake 西湖. Whether there is actually a difference or not often depends on who you ask, but 杭州人 are extremely defensive when it comes to the nuances they consider particular to the area around 西湖 in 杭州. They hold the terroir and even the particular kind of moisture in the air (once described to me as “the wet air that comes off Xihu西湖 and mixes with that which comes off Qiantang River 钱塘江) to make a unique tea, similar to how the Burgundians would refuse to call a wine grown from burgundy grapes the same if it was grown in Napa, California. Within the realm of 西湖龙井are several mountains. The most famous ones are 狮峰山、龙井村、云栖、虎跑、梅家坞. When walking around Hangzhou, many tea stores will have 狮、龙、云、虎、梅 on a large poster outside or in the window to advertise which village their tea comes from. The most famous three are 狮峰，龙井and梅家坞. The latter two are very nice locales to relax for a day, sipping tea and strolling through the tea fields if visiting. If you like 麻将, you can play with views of the rolling hills covered in tea while sipping on one grown within walking distance. 梅家坞 is also called an "oxygen bar" as the air is considered so much cleaner than the rest of Hangzhou. The vast majority of people outside Hangzhou will actually be purchasing Zhejiang Longjing – I’ve heard more than one tea store owner say that there is no real Xihu Longjing tea sold outside Hangzhou as the area is simply too small to produce any exportable amounts and is instead sold for a (large) premium within the city, and to friends. A store owner in Shanghai who makes an annual trip to purchase bulk Xihu Longjing to sell to Japanese tourists told me that Xihu Longjing is the most commonly counterfeited tea in Shanghai – a city less than an hour away by 高铁. Seasons When speaking of Longjing, people say “雨前是上品，明前是珍品.” The best 龙井 is 明前茶, or that which is picked before 清明节. For a good example of 明前龙井茶, you can expect to pay at least 2,000 kuai /斤. You can generally pick up 50g tins for around 200 kuai – almost every home in Hangzhou seems to have one for when guests arrive. When pressed, locals will generally admit to buying 雨前茶, or tea picked before the heavy rains arrive (generally April/May) for themselves. Several local tea shops have told me you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference unless an expert in tea, and the price can often fall quite a bit. One reason to buy earlier tea is that the colder weather prevents bugs from eating the tea leaves, but as warmer (and wetter) weather approaches many of the farmers begin using pesticides. Since this tea is from later in the season, it’s generally not worth remaining organic anyway - it's no longer a premium product. Some organic teas do exist, but they are often grown alongside those which have pesticides. Earlier teas tend to be simply drunk while some suggest later teas need to be rinsed (extremely briefly) with hot water prior to steeping to remove the pesticides. The tea also differs drastically year to year – people say this year was abnormally cold and then comment on the quality or amount of tea. A common question when chatting with local tea fans is “How does this tea compare to last year’s?” Unfortunately, I am new to the neighborhood and cannot comment on this - maybe next year! The Tea Longjing of the Xihu or Zhejiang variety can be told apart by its flat, long leaves. The legend goes that an emperor visited Hangzhou and went to drink some tea. Before leaving, he took the tea and put it between the pages of his books for his long journey home. Upon arriving, the tea was flattened by the book and thought ruined, but both the emperor and his mother thought it attractive and delicious. After that, the tea became one of the favorites of emperors (I believe starting in the Ming) and he declared several of these trees to be royal property - they still stand in the old town. 龙井茶 is produced by 炒 (frying? Roasting? Stir frying?) – not quite sure how to translate this. This compares to other teas such as Japanese Sencha （蒸汽 – steam）, 普洱 （日晒 –sun dried）, or 安吉白茶 （烘焙 – baked）. I’d recommend a visit to Hangzhou if for no other reason than to watch the older craftsmen working their hands in a giant wok full of tea – a feast for the eyes and the nostrils! Once heard someone remark that you can tell the age of the roaster by looking at the tea leaves – an older roaster will have so many years of experience that simply through touch and smell, they know the exact moment the tea is finished and will avoid the “burnt” ends that are common to younger roasters. Machines, on the other hand, totally avoid the burned ends, but produce an inferior tea. The most expensive Longjing is that sold with just the buds, no leaves. I’m not particularly fond of this – too 淡 for my uncultivated taste buds, and it lacks the 涩 quality that I like in Longjing. Most people I’ve met share this conclusion – and I would avoid it unless you’re really down the rabbit hole of tea drinking. Instead, find tea sold either with one leaf or two leaves, plus the bud. Dragon Well tea differs based on the age and shape of the bush upon which it is grown. Newer teas are planted in straight rows and all look about the same size, while the older trees tend to be of a variety of shapes and sizes. You will see both in the villages, but I’m not an expert on this and can’t afford the old tree tea to compare, so I shall leave this for another day (or decade). Brewing There are three methods for brewing tea in a glass, and 西湖龙井 should be made with the 中投法. You can also make it in a gaiwan. Abcd has covered this in another post, but I will briefly summarize. You can use a tall glass or a short glass, whatever is on hand, but it should lack any coloration or decoration so as to allow you to see the tea. Water for Longjing should definitely be far off a boil – 80 degrees is all you need, more than that will destroy the tea. Gross approximations can be had by boiling and letting the water sit for a minute, or by pouring the water into another vessel before pouring it over the tea: First, fill the glass 1/3 with water and swish it around to warm the glass. Pour this water out (preferably into a bowl to use to water your plants once it’s cool – can’t be wasting water!). Next, refill the glass 1/3 of the way with water. Add the tea. While I’ve heard people say 2 grams, I find this up to personal taste. My girlfriend likes very few leaves, I like a bit more. Gently swish the glass to wet all the leaves. This prevents them from simply sitting on top and not getting brewed. Fourth, fill the glass, but leave enough space on top to hold your fingers – this is to avoid burning your lips when drinking, and (I think!) to let you stick your nose in and take a nice whiff. A big draw for Longjing is how pretty the leaves are, and so once you fill the glass you should enjoy watching them dance. The ideal is to be sitting near Xihu on a warm spring day chatting with friends: a person pours and you all continue chatting while observing your tea's infusion. Once infused, you take a moment to enjoy the fragrance before gently sipping, using your teeth to stop any debris from entering your mouth. Once the glass is back to being 1/3rd of the way full, add more hot water. You can continuously do this until it's too light for you - grandpa brewers generally add extra leaves so the first few infusions are too strong, but the latter are still nice. Not sure I'd recommend doing that if drinking at home. A note of warning: water is critical. Tea fans will say the best water is mountain water while the worst is well or river water, but Hangzhou natives will be even more particular and seek out water from 虎跑梦泉, Tiger Dream Spring, which is said to produce a particularly sweet cup of tea due to its mineral content. There are actually several springs scattered around the 龙井area and most will do, but the water is of questionable value today. Hangzhou locals now swear you can only use 农夫山泉, a brand of water sold across China. They specify that it must be the one sold in Zhejiang (which is sourced from 千岛湖), and my teacher says she’s met a lady in Beijing who actually has it sent to her rather than drink her local 农夫山泉. Those less picky can use any bottled water or high quality tap water. Finally, don’t be worried to dry other drinking vessels. I only included glass because it is the second most used method here (after grandpa brewing – see abcd’s posts). I actually prefer to use a gaiwan because I find the fragrance is more easily appreciated using the lid to trap it. Same as above, but let the lid sit over the tea. When ready, lift the lid and keep its cavity pointed down until you reach the nose, then lift and smell. Comparisons I have three varieties of Longjing at home and will show you them both dry (before brewing) and after brewing. This is a nice example of 西湖龙井; you can expect to pay at least 2,000 kuai for a 斤, or around $285. I am not sure of the mountain, but note the yellowish green leaves. This is a characteristic most associated with the tea from 狮峰山, though I can’t say for sure. It is a 明前茶 and was picked in the few days before 清明节. This was given to me by a tea house owner friend. It is a fragrant cup, grassy (often described as bean-y) with sweet undertones to the smell. It’s beautiful in the cup –the leaves dance up and down. The flavor is delicious – slightly astringent but sweet, and tastes a bit desserty. You can see that once I remove the leaves, they are largely 一芽一叶 and 一芽两叶. Since most of them are in one piece, it was probably handpicked and hand roasted – machine picking/roasting tends to break up the leaves. The leaves together with the stick also tend to create a beautiful cup of dancing tea leaves (see picture) as the leaves tend to sink and the sticks tend to float, which creates Longjing's famous dancing effect. This second sample is from a different friend. Her friend owns an organic tea farm in the town of Longjing and gifted me this tea as a way of introducing her friend's goods – the market price is similar to the one above. Note the leaves are a darker green – both these teas were picked before 清明节, and the darker color might be attributed to the mountain, or to the roaster. Somebody more experienced can generally tell the two apart, but I can't. Perhaps hard to see in this picture, but there is also a tiny amount of white fuzz on some of the leaves. This tea has less fragrance than the first cup, but is slightly more caramel-y in flavor. You can tell that both of these were hand roasted as there are some pieces slightly burned and the pieces remain largely whole. Another nice cup of tea. This is a “cheap" or "middle of the road" 龙井. It is 雨前 but 清明节后, so it is picked later in the season than the other two teas. After the above tea was gifted to me, I felt I had to make a purchase. The gift was a good quality tea and I didn’t worry about it originally, but I regreted buying this tea after receiving it. I wanted an everyday tea and asked for something in the price range of 300 kuai; this tea was 500 kuai for 250 grams, which was subsequently lowered to 400 kuai for the “friend price.” That’s around $50-60 for 250 grams of tea. This tea is nothing to write home about and I think it points to something important when it comes to Longjing – cheap Longjing from Xihu isn’t worth it. The fragrance is muted and no specific smells stand out – it lacks the sweetness of the other samples. You can also see both in the glass and once the leaves are spent that there are numerous sticks, which makes for an unpleasant drinking experience and carries very little in the way of flavor, but makes the bag heavier for selling purposes. It’s still not as bad as the Longjing you find in supermarkets – I’ve seen these sold where half the bag is made up of sticks, and the leaves are chopped to bits. Still, there is none of the dancing that I saw in the last two cups – the leaves sink almost immediately while the sticks float even if you leave them in the water. None of the leaves have even the slightest hint of being burned, but many are destroyed. Probably machine roasted or picked. Not many buds either. I have plenty of teas in the house that I bought for cheaper and make a much nicer cup of tea. Recently purchased 50 grams of a Wuyi Rock Oolong which was 800 kuai/jin (a little over $100) and I reach for it every day but stop myself for fear of running out – this Longjing has largely been relegated to what I grandpa brew throughout the school day. Note that this Longjing actually costs more than the Oolong. If on a tight budget, I’d ignore the Xihu Longjing and explore the broader area of Zhejiang – many other towns make beautiful cups of green tea that don’t come with the glamour of a 西湖 tea. Hope to come back to one of those in a later post. Conclusion While I've had little luck in the way of finding budget 龙井茶, I would still recommend to invest in a small tin of the good stuff - it's a wonderful tea to drink, and one of the ten most famous teas ( @abcdefg has posted about some of the other most famous teas - you can find his posts here https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54133-tea-articles-a-users-guide/ ). It's a sweet and fragrant tea and properly brewed (i.e. at a low enough temperature) should please even those who grew up adding sugar to their teas. It's also easy to brew - I've almost never seen it served in anything other than a plain old glass, except maybe in a gaiwan or a small 景德镇 cup (supposed to elevate the color of the tea, though at the expense of the dancing). There is also actually a shop on Taobao owned by a famous tea factory in Hangzhou - I'd have to ask my teacher if somebody was interested in the link. 4 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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