Saturday, May 9, 2009

2009 Spring Longjing tea, Green Hill Tea

2009 Spring Longjing tea (Dragonwell),

I'm a pretty enthusiastic tea drinker, because it affords me so many opportunities to indulge in surprising flavors and aromas. Recently a friend of mine, George from, sent me a sample of his Dragonwell-style tea, and I loved it.

Now, because this is a moderately priced longjing that does not originate in West Lake (although it does come from the correct region, Zhejiang Province, China), I feel a need to curb my enthusiasm. But I don't want to. I like it!

For years, I have focused almost entirely on Darjeeling and other Himalayan highgrown teas, which have been my passion and great pleasure. But in the last year, I've finally been delving into the Chinese greens and oolongs. And me being me, I feel a need to learn everything I can about the new types of teas I'm drinking.

Throughout the centuries, China's emperors demanded tribute teas from the various regions. This is the origin of the Chinese 10 Famous Teas. The list is somewhat changeable, but everyone agrees that Longjing (or Lung Ching, or Long Jing, or other interpretations as the Chinese is transliterated into English) is at the top of the list. Happily, the world is now allowed to drink what used to be the privilege of emperors and their favored friends.

Longjing literally means "Dragon Well" tea, which is because all the dragons who live in wells really like this tea. Or something. Anyway, a fanciful name for an unusual tea. The leaves look quite unusual: they are flattened spears, with a slightly shiny appearance. This is because each Longjing-style tea needs to be processed by professionals who use the 10 Steps, or 10 hand motions that must be precisely followed to shape the tea like this.

I think the reason a lot of people like to drink green teas scented with other things (ginger, or flowers, or fruits), is because they haven't ever tasted a green like this, which naturally has so much complexity that to put something in it would be absurd.

This tea is the 2009 Spring Flush Longjing, which means it was only picked a couple weeks ago, and it's perfectly fresh. They're still right in the middle of the Spring harvest season, which is finishing up shortly, I think, and they're working around the clock to produce these teas. To get an idea of what goes into making the great green teas of China, please read this article:

I am thinking about how the best first-flush Darjeelings seem to bend toward how this green tea is tasting: brilliant, complex, bright, and wonderfully fragrant. I've never noticed how a black and a green tea could be so similar, but it's like that sweet spot where Mozart and Beethoven seem to reach toward one another.

Now, Longjing is traditionally sourced from a single place, Zhejiang Province, and from the West Lake. (However, there are many 'longjing'-style teas, which are made in 14 different provinces throughout China. But it's important to try to find a tea that comes from the right province, in the same way you would want your champagne to be from Champagne.)

There are about 30 different subvarieties of Zhejiang Province longjing, and this one comes from JiuFen Mountain, in JinHua. George tells me it's quite an ordinary longjing-- fairly moderately priced, around $90 per pound-- and it's not the very high-end tea from the region that can run easily over $200 per pound.

Because I don't have a wide variety of experience with longjing to weigh this tea against, I can only enjoy it on its own, freshly and without preconceptions.

Note to self: Definitely go search out different grades and styles of Zhejiang longjing!

Water brought to boil then cooled to 80C, steeped 3 minutes in Great-Grandma's porcelain Japanese teapot.

Ridiculously Fragrant.

The aroma that met me when I opened the packet of 2009 Spring Longjing from was knock-your-socks-off intense, an exquisite citrus-and-ocean-green scent that I just cannot believe hasn't been turned into a perfume by some French parfumeur.

The liquor is a pale yellow, perfectly transparent liquid. The flavor is same as fragrance-- pine, citrus, ocean, sweet, and delightful.

Well, because I can't compare this against other longjings, I can only say that my family and I truly enjoyed the experience. It's very pleasant, every once in a while, to find a moderately priced tea that one can derive great pleasure from. In the words of MarshalN, of A Tea Addict's Journal:

Remember -- good tea is rarely cheap, but cheap tea can be good, and most importantly, expensive teas are not guaranteed to be good at all.