The Qi Aerista Team made a trek to this rustic village in eastern China for a taste of the legendary Longjing Tea
Of the hundreds of Chinese green teas out there, Dragonwell is perhaps one of the most celebrated types among tea aficionados. Called Longjing in Chinese (literally meaning “Dragon Well”), Dragonwell consistently ranks among the Top 10 Most Famous Chinese Teas because of its characteristic visual beauty and fine taste.
Pre-Qingming Dragonwell, made by our host Mr. Wang, as complemented by locally produced Loquat (Pipa) Fruit
Dragonwell is renowned for these unique attributes:
- Shape & Colour — Dry leaves appearing as flattened flakes with a light yellow-greenish tint
- Aroma — Smells of roasted grain and nori seaweed
- Taste — Complex, fresh and sweet
The best Dragonwell is made with the first crop of tea buds every spring in late March during the period known as “pre-Qingming”. The really good selections for this prized tea can fetch over 20,000 yuan/kg (US$ 1,320/lb) at retail.
The production of Dragonwell dates back to the Ming Dynasty over 500 years ago. It is harvested around Longjing Village in Hangzhou, a city of 9 million in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province that is home to the scenic West Lake and e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba.
Longjing Village lies in a valley surrounded by hills that rise 200-400m above sea level. The warm and moist micro-climate combined with a thick layer of porous topsoil make the village an ideal place for cultivating the finest green tea.
Snapshots around the tea plantations at Longjing Village
Almost all of the 1000 villagers in Longjing are involved in the tea business, ranging from tending tea plantations to operating tea-themed restaurants and hotels. Our host Mr. Wang is among one of them, who was introduced to us by a good friend of ours. We made the 200 km road trip from Shanghai in mid May to visit Mr. Wang, where he is taking a well-deserved break after a busy spring tea season.
Mr. Wang first learned the art of making Dragonwell at the age of 17. After a career in the military and civil service, he has now returned to the Longjing village to take care of his tea plantation full-time all year round.
Mr. Wang (left) with Rick (right) at the Dragonwell Village Tea Plantation Mr. Wang first learned the art of making Dragonwell at the age of 17. After a career in the military and civil service, he has now returned to the Longjing village to take care of his tea plantation full-time all year round. Mr. Wang showed us around the community, including a walk to the older part of the village where the actual Dragon Well lies. He recounted the folklore where Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty came across the village in mid 1700’s and asked for tea from the villagers to quench his thirst. He liked the taste so much that he demanded the locally produced tea to serve as annual tribute to the imperial courts.
Old Longjing Village and Real Dragon Well
Back at his residence, Mr. Wang shared with us his tea making and pan-frying tips in producing authentic Dragonwell. Tea picking starts in late March where hundreds of workers would scale the slopes of the tea plantations in search for the fresh tea buds. The pickings are immediately sent downhill for processing through a combination of withering, pan-frying, cooling and screening.
Mr. Wang sharing his pan-frying tips with us using traditional tea wok (L) and automatic pan-fryer (R).
Pan-frying is the most critical step of making Dragonwell, where the strength and length of heating as well as the type of pan-frying motions will determine the ultimate form and taste quality of the tea. Traditionally pan-frying is done by hand on an electric wok for about 30 minutes per batch, where temperatures can reach over 100 degC.
In the old days , Mr. Wang used to keep on pan-frying by hand with the traditional electric wok for 24 hours straight to process all the tea leaves. Otherwise, the unprocessed tea leaves will become oxidized and therefore unusable. Nowadays even with automatic pan-frying equipment available, Mr. Wang still needs to spend 5–6 hours per day at the electric wok during peak season to manually handle the most critical steps.
Pan-frying fresh tea leaves with traditional electric wok at the Longjing community processing center.
When it was time to say goodbye, Mr. Wang invited us back for another visit next spring during the tea harvesting season when the air will be filled with the fresh scent of tea pickings. He also offered us packets of the prized pre-Qingming Dragonwell he personally made as parting gifts.
So how did the tea taste? Let’s find out in Part 2 of our blog on Dragonwell to be published shortly.
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