Considered one of the top 10 teas of China, Longjing is a favorite of tea connoisseurs and even those who like a good green tea. The tea is so well-regarded, in fact, that imitators abound. So it is good to know what true Longjing tea is.
One of the most confusing aspects of Chinese teas can be their names, which have to be translated not only from an entirely different set of characters to our alphabet (called Romanization) but which tend to lose some of the cultural significance by this translation. Longjing tea is an example of this and is also called Long Ching and Dragon Well (or Dragonwell). However, as the Bard said, a rose by any other name… And whichever Romanized name is used, the original Chinese name refers to one of four things: a specific tea tree, a well, a temple, and a spring. All are located on the shores of West Lake (Xi-hu), at Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China. This is also where the very best version of this green tea comes from.
Longjing tea has four prized aspects:
- a bright greenish color
- a fragrance usually described as elegant and long-lasting
- a flavor that is refreshing, brisk, mellow, and with a sweet aftertaste — this taste originates from the amino acid called theanine (the less sunshine on the growing plant, the more there is in the leaves, so fog in the mountains figures a lot here)
- an overall prettiness to its appearance
A key to the color and shape of the dry leaves is the processing. They undergo intensive pan-frying by hand in a custom-made pan. They are repeatedly stirred and moved around by hand, using 10 different styles of movements.
The original Longjing tea was from the area around Longjing Village, on the shore of West Lake (Xihu). The tea used to be divided into categories according to five main producing areas:
- Shi-feng Mountain
- Mei-jia-Wu area
- Weng-jia-shan Mountain
- Yun-xi area
- Hu-pao area
Today, Longjing tea is categorized into 4 different groups:
- 狮 (Shi)
- 梅 (Mei)
- 西湖 (Xihu, means West Lake)
- Zhejiang Longjing from other places of Zhejiang Province
The quality between them can vary based on the cultivar (no. 43 is considered the best), the climate in the growing area (as stated earlier, the fog in the mountains makes a difference), the soil (one that retains sufficient moisture and has an acidic pH suitable for growing tea trees), the manufacturing expertise, and the environment at the factory where the leaves are processed. Some factories are close to where the tea is grown while others are further away and may be in more urbanized areas. The shorter the distance between the source of the leaves and where they are processed can make quite a difference in taste, since halting oxidation as soon as possible is needed. Plus the leaves might absorb various elements in the air around them, meaning that factories in more urban areas will have more foreign elements in the air.
Longjing tea dates back over 1,500 years and maybe even as early as the Song Dynasty according to The Tea Scripture by Lu Yu. Even before the Song Dynasty this tea was known but was called by the names of the mountains where it grew: Xiang-lin-cha, Bai-yun-cha, and Bao-yun-cha.
- Don’t skimp on the tea leaves here. The usual recommendation is a proportion of 1:50 (for example, 3-5g per 100ml water).
- Heat the water to 75-80°C (167-176° F) and then use some to warm the small cup, glass, or a mug (fill it about 1/4 full, swirl a bit until vessel feels warm outside).
- Drop the tea leaves into this water to let them cover the surface. Sway the glass a little in a gentle movement so the leaves soak up water and sink down.
- Pour in more hot water to fill the cup and wait for the leaves to sink.
- Steep about 1.5-3 minutes, when most leaves have sunk to the bottom of the cup. (If the water isn’t hot enough, the leaves won’t sink. Use hotter water for the second infusion.)
- Drink the liquid down to about 1/4 to 1/3 of the cup’s capacity, and then pour in more hot water for the next infusion.
- Repeat brewing the tea for a few more times.
After steeping, take a few moments to observe the leaves and note their bright green color, the sign of a truly fine version of Longjing.
We carry the finest Longjing — 2010 Spring Handmade Imperial Shi Feng Long Jing Green Tea. You can tell by the leaves, made from Cultivar Longjing No. 43. They will be smaller, brighter green, and more compact. The ones on the left are cultivar 43 and those on the right are another cultivar that have been processed in the Longjing style.