5 FAQs about Longjing tea * (Dragon Well/Long Ching)

5 FAQs about Longjing tea * (Dragon Well/Long Ching)

* To avoid confusion in romanization, we use the Chinese name Longjing throughout the article instead of Long Ching or Dragon Well.

 

1.    Why is Longjing tea so famous? 

The history of Longjing tea dates back 1,500 years, and its fast rise to fame was mostly due to the endorsement by Chinese emperor Qianlong (1711-1799)

Dubbed as the “green gold” in China, Longjing tea was named after its birthplace in Longjing Village and it is no doubt one of the most coveted green teas nowadays. Interestingly, despite its long-standing tradition, Longjing was barely known beyond the nearest villages in early days. Until one emperor changed all that.

“The Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Armour on Horseback”, by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione
Source: Wikipedia
“The Qianlong Emperor in Ceremonial Armour on Horseback”, by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione
Source: Wikipedia

As the longest-lived emperor in Imperial China, Emperor Qianlong lent abundant tales and myths to the popular folklore. He was very passionate about Longjing tea, evidenced by his four visits to the plantation fields in Hangzhou and constant reminiscences of this enchanting experience in poetry.  Longjing tea had since become an annual tribute to the imperial court and gained popularity across the country. Today, folktales are still recounted to underline the scarcity and exclusivity of this much-loved green tea.

 

2. What does Longjing tea taste like?

Longjing tea brewed in tall clear glass
Source: Danchalundao
Longjing tea brewed in tall clear glass
Source: Danchalundao

Authentic Longjing tea tastes sweet, mellow and rounded. Some varieties are distinctly vegetal and grassy, and others carry a hint of roasted chestnut and butter.

Longjing tea is a pan-roasted green tea packed with natural antioxidants. It also contains a higher amount of caffeine than the average green tea, which makes it a perfect refresher to kickstart the morning.

 

 

3. How is Longjing tea made in China?

Tea withering in bamboo basket
Source: Travels in Asia
Tea withering in bamboo basket
Source: Travels in Asia

Unlike black tea or Oolong, green tea such as Longjing is non-fermented.

Fresh leaves are first plucked with seasoned pickers and then left in the open air for withering. Roasting further reduces the moisture and brings Longjing its iconic flavors.

4. How much does Longjing tea cost?

It varies, A LOT. From less than $2 to over $50 per ounce (28g). Provenance, cultivar and picking time are the primary price-setters.

5.Okay…I am confused. Can you elaborate?

Don’t worry! Just read on.

Provenance

West Lake Longjing is the most expensive among all due to its brand equity and scarcity. The original villages where Emperor Qianlong visited some 400 years ago have very limited productions nowadays. The pre-Qingming tea from one of these villages, Shi Feng (Lion’s Peak),  is an absolute rare find and price per ounce can quickly run past $35. Driven by burgeoning demand and advance in farming techniques, Longjing varieties are also cultivated elsewhere. Strictly speaking, only those from Zhejiang province are the true Longjing teas, defined by the place of origin. However, copycats processed with similar techniques are often marketed as alternative “Longjing teas.” West Lake Longjing is at the top of the pecking order, followed by Zhejiang Longjing and then those from other provinces.

Cultivar/Variety

Cultivar adds another layer of complexity to pricing. There are nearly two dozen of micro-varieties in Zhejiang province alone. The Old Tree (Qunti) and No.43 are the most revered and priciest, with pronounced aromas and tastes. Wuniuzao, also called the Early Longjing, is one of the earliest harvests and possesses a comparatively light and subtle taste.

No.43 leaves (L) vs Old tree/Qunti leaves(R)

Source:Chajiezhongguo

No.43 bushes (L) vs Old tree/Qunti bushes (R)

Source:Chajiezhongguo

Even the well-trained eyes cannot distinguish all the varieties and sources sometimes. That is why many cheap counterfeits can fool the most informed consumers. However, you should be able to discern some differences by comparing the appearance, scent and liquor of different varieties side by side.

 West Lake LongjingZhejiang LongjingWuniuzao
Dry leavesGreen with a yellowish toneGreener compared to West Lake LongjingLight and luminous green. Short and plump
Scent/AromaRefreshing, floral and typically with a linge-ring aroma of roasted beansA slightly burned smell  
Light bodied and grassy  

 

 

West Lake Longjing (L), Zhejiang Longjing (M) and Wuniuzao (R)

Source:Chajiezhongguo

Picking time

Pre-Qingming Longjing (by the first week of April) from West Lake is considered as the most fabled and precious in China. As tea leaves grow slowly in early spring, they are rich in nutrients. Pre-Qingming tea tastes delicate and light, yet elegant and sophisticated enough to be savored and reminisced. Next is pre-Guyu (mid to late April) plucking, which offers the best value for money. Later harvested leaves produce greener and more flavorful tea, but also add bitterness and astringency to the aftertaste.

Tea picking for West Lake Longjing, March 2019

Source:Chajiezhongguo

Traditional Longjing tea is picked and roasted with bare hands, which requires strenuous labor and in-depth know-how. Since a decade ago, a growing number of tea makers have also adopted machine roasting to make Longjing tea more affordable to the mass market. Machine-roasted leaves are ironed flatter and more uninformed with a vivid and even tone, yet often lack for fragrance and richness compared to artisanal teas.

 

Hand roasted (L) vs Machine roasted (R)

Source:Chajiezhongguo

 

Some final remarks:

Fine Longjing tea is a pristine reflection of natural terroir and man-made efforts, but it also comes along with a hefty price tag. As there are many counterfeits but self-proclaimed “Longjing” in the market, we hope you spend a bit time in understanding what makes an authentic Longjing tea and ultimately make wise purchase decisions based on your individual taste and budget.

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