Dearies I know we’ve talked about Green Teas quite a bit, but there is one in particular that is a Chinese staple with an interesting story, Longjing. This tea’s name translates to ‘dragon well’, and is grown only in China’s Zhejiang province. Why is this well-loved tea called Dragon Well? It all goes back to the legend! There are actually a few different versions of the legend, but in my favorite version, a Taoist monk discovered a dragon hiding in an old well. The season had been in drought, and once the villagers learned of the Monk’s discovery they prayed to this dragon to bring the rain and fill the well to capacity. After the prayers, it started to rain! This water flowed from the well and nourished the surrounding tea is grown.
The tea itself has a flat needle-like shape with a lovely jade green color. This tea is pan-fired which gives it a nutty taste (it often reminds me of chestnuts) with a fresh vegetal aroma. It also has a cooked veggie flavor which we often associate with green beans. The tea is nutty, vegetal and sweet.
The quality of longjing depends on when it was harvested. The earlier in the spring, the more expensive the tea will be. For the highest quality, one leaf and one bud is picked. These young leaves and buds create a very gentle, fresh and tender flavor for the tea.
The highest grade leaves are pan fried in small batches in a wok. They needed to be heated as soon as possible to prevent oxidation. The pan-firing technique creates the lovely nutty flavor you taste in the tea. The leaves are pressed to the sides of the wok to make sure they are properly dried. This also creates the flat needle-like shape of the finished leaves. If your tea leaves have an even color to them, you know they were dried very well, to make sure the heat was even for the whole batch. Lower grades of longjing are also pan heated but usually in large revolving drums. The teas that are machine roasted are still quite delicious and more affordable.
As with many coveted teas, longjing can be ‘faked’. You may not be getting spring harvested tea, or tea grown in Zhejiang. The best way to tell is use your eyes and mouth. Does it look like a vibrant green tea? Does it smell and taste like early spring? Veggies and chestnut? It is smooth and gentle or is it bitter? If you taste enough good quality longjing you will know what to look for. As always dearies, it’s about tasting, tasting, tasting!
To brew your longjing you can use a gaiwan, or a small teapot. My favorite way is to just add the leaves right in the water using either a bowl style cup or tall glass. Just keep filling up your vessel with hot water as you finish it, re-steeping those beautiful leaves. This is the way it’s commonly consumed in China. Dearies no matter how you steep it, it’s a beautiful tea. If you try it you’ll understand why it’s so revered in China. Happy Steeping!