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Long Jing (Dragon Well) Loose-Leaf Green Tea 西湖龍井
Long Jing (Dragon Well) Loose-Leaf Green Tea 西湖龍井
Roasted nuts, weighty tannins and sweet aftertaste
Long Jing is China's most famous green tea; it is often regarded as the King Tea of China. Its flavor is strong and blunt. While nuttiness is a prominent flavor trait of Long Jing, well made Long Jing also has floral notes with plenty of refined tannins.
Also known as: Long Jing Tea, Xihu Longjing, Dragon Well Green Tea 西湖龍井
A Brief Overview of Long Jing
Since the Qing Dynasty, no Chinese tea has enjoyed fame comparable to Long Jing, also known as Dragon Well Tea. Often regarded as the King Tea of China, knock-offs of this famous tea are so common that a majority of the tea sold on the market is fake.
Dragon Well tea grows traditionally in Xi Hu (West Lake Area), Hangzhou withing Zhejiang province, which is divided into five lots. These lots are ranked in in the following order: Shi (Lion Peak), Long (Dragon), Yun (Cloud), Hu (Tiger), Mei (Plum).
In addition to the classic tea leaf coming from the Long Jing 43 varietal, there are a few heirloom varietals left.
These Heirloom tea trees are naturally more diverse, so when these leaves are mixed during processing, the overall taste profile becomes more complex.
Learn More about Long Jing
As a historically famous tea, the terroir of Longjing is strictly defined much like that of champagne or other fine wines. The best Longjing comes from Xihu, or West Lake, in Hangzhou.
Terroir as a label begins broad and becomes more specific, so Xihu Longjing can be described as coming from Zhejiang province most broadly before narrowing it down to Yuezhou, Qiantang, and finally Xihu, with each label describing a smaller area of land.
Even within Xihu though, teas from different villages are considered more or less prestigious. The most prestigious village is called Lion, followed by Dragon, Cloud, Tiger, and finally Plum, in order of prestige.
When tea is sold, it is generally marketed as coming from the most prestigious location it can accurately claim to come from. For example, tea that comes from the Lion village in Xihu will make that clear on its packaging, but tea from the Plum village will be marketed as Xihu Longjing. The same is true of broader categories as well.
Longjing is made from a number of varietals. The heirloom varietal is the most prestigious, as well as one of the rarest varietals of Longjing, with only around 100 acres of heirloom trees left in the Xihu area.
More commonly found are clone varietals, notably including the varietal known as Longjing 43. This varietal is the result of attempts to isolate and reproduce the best qualities of the heirloom varietal.
Other clone varietals are made to preserve various desirable qualities in teas. Some clone varietals, for example, have been produced with the goal of an earlier harvest, thus ensuring a higher yield.
The harvest festival of Qingming (celebrated each year around April 5th) is often treated as a cutoff date for the harvest of many teas, and while this cutoff is not not as relevant as many consider it to be for certain varieties of tea, this cutoff is important for Longjing.
It almost always rains on Qingming, and as summer approaches the temperature rises notably with each rainfall. This causes the taste of the tea leaves to change rapidly, growing more bitter the longer it goes unpicked, and so pre-Qingming Longjing (also known as Ming Qian Longjing) is considered superior to tea picked after this date.
Because heirloom Longjing is normally only ready to be picked starting on March 23rd, this leaves only a short period of time to harvest the tea during its peak season. Because of this, a varietal such as Wu Niu Zao, which buds earlier in the year, will have a longer peak season, and therefore a higher yield.
Green tea is processed using four different methods, and divided into four categories based on these methods. These categories are stir-fried, bake-dried, steamed, and sun-dried teas. Longjing is a stir-fried tea. This is the strongest category of green tea.
After Longjing is picked, it is spread out in a thin layer in the shade to sit. After this, it is stir-fried in a wok, until it is nearly crisp enough to break when you touch it. Traditionally this is done by hand, but highly advanced machines have been developed which use artificial intelligence to customize the process nearly as effectively as a human being could.
Because of this, this step of Longjing production is almost always done by machine, even for very high quality Longjing. By the end of this step, the leaves have been pressed into their signature flat shape.
The tea leaves are then put in a plastic bag to eliminate air and bring out more moisture from the tea. The next step involves flattening the tea once again using a difficult technique known as Hui Guo.
Longjing farmers say that it takes three years for a tea maker to learn this technique. This step involves rubbing the leaves against the wok, making sure all of the leaves face the same direction to prevent breakage.
It is during this step that all hairs are rubbed off the tea as well . Finally, once the tea has been processed, it is wrapped once again in plastic bags and placed in a container with limestone inside for three weeks in order to chill the moisture out of the tea.
The classic tasting note for Longjing is chestnut. Because Longjing is a stir-fry green tea, its profile is strong and robust.
Longjing made from Wu Niu Zao, like many clone varietals, is usually light and grassy with notes of raw nuts, while Longjing 43 tends to be more floral.
The nuttiness of Longjing is closely linked to how thoroughly it has been cooked. A more “well done” Longjing will taste nuttier but will lose certain nuances. Some also a more heavily cooked Longjing as having notes of toasted rice.
It’s riskier to process heirloom varietal as by definition the sizes and shapes vary, which makes it harder to control how thoroughly it is cooked. However, a well-made Longjing is both nutty and floral, with a long lingering aftertaste. The heirloom varietal is always more robust.