Provenance is what the game is all about. Many famous Chinese teas are fairly costly, because there are only so many acres available upon which to grow a region's characteristic tea. Thus, limited source leads to cost increases in the tea when it comes to market. So unscrupulous dealers will try to sell quite similar counterfeits from other, less-famous regions, as the real thing. (As an example, imagine a Peruvian wine dealer trying to pass off their bubbly wine as "Champagne," even though it does not come from that region of France. It's misleading and harmful to the industry, and it sets the experts' teeth on edge when they see it.)
The Tea Hub's Web site (and their Twitter feed, @TeaHub, which is a place to speak directly with the knowledgeable staffers who know their tea) is a great source of information, and I urge you to wander through and learn something, as I did. This, I learned from their article, "Majority of Long Jing and Bi Lo Chun Are from Si Chuan."
Recent news from ChengDu Business Paper said that 80% Long Jing (from Zhe Jiang), Bi Luo Chun (from Jiang Su) on the market are actually from Si Chuan. According to the news, unethical business people purchase Si Chuan teas at low prices and sell them as Long Jing or Bi Luo Chun at 3 to 4 times the paid prices.
An expert told the reporter that appearance of real Long Jing and Si Chuan tea, Zhu Ye Qing, are quite similar. It is very hard for regular people to tell the differences. Experts from Tea Research Institute also said that Long Jing demanded high prices while its production was low. Therefore, some business people produce Si Chuan Long Jing to make high profits.
Good grief: 80% of the stuff was reportedly fake, back in 2004, when the article was written. For someone like me, who is only discovering Long Jing in the first place, this is just so frustrating. How can one discover what is the real deal, and what is faked?
Tea Hub followed up with a companion article this year, "Reading Long Jing Tea Leaves," which addresses the same situation. An excerpt:
Below are photos of the most common faked Long Jing on the market. The one on the left is Wu Niu Zao from Wen Zhou, Zhe Jiang, and the one on the right is Zhu Ye Qing from Si Chuan.
Both Wu Niu Zao and Zhu Ye Qing are early-harvest teas. Because that early-harvest Long Jing demand much higher prices and only have limited productions, some illegal business people chose to fake Long Jing with Wu Niu Zao and Zhu Ye Qing in pursue of maximum profits. Real Long Jing teas have beautiful straight, flat leaves with none or very few hairs. Faked Long Jing, on the other hand, have fluffier leaves, some even covered with hairs. Leaves of faked Long Jing from Zhu Ye Qing are smaller than real ones. Leaves of faked Long Jing from Wu Niu Zao are bigger than real ones.
There are other sources of information about this same phenomenon, as well; I think I will write an article about, "The Great Tea Counterfeit Heist: The Seamy Underbelly of the Dirty Tea World," sometime. In the meanwhile:
THE TEA HUB: West Lake Long Jing
Tea Hub's description of their West Lake Long Jing scans with the information above.
Pre-Ming West Lake Long Jing/ Dragon Well (明前西湖龙井) 2009 Spring Tea!
Another great West Lake Long Jing (also called Dragon Well or Lung Ching) from Tea Research Institute in HangZhou, the only authority in tea quality test in China.
This delicate pre-Ming Long Jing was grown at Tea Research Institute's Long Jing tea garden in the protected West Lake Long Jing Origin area, and hand fired by experienced masters. This year's extremely cold weather caused delay in harvest. Our Long Jing is the few early harvest. This tea carries Chinese Green Food Certificate.
Exactly as described. Sadly, when I originally started writing this article, I did not have camera on hand to document the leaves, but they were a brilliant green, sharp and flat because of the method of frying the leaves, and delicious. And when I say, "delicious," I meant that I tasted the leaves, and it's like wonderful tea candy. Seriously, they could market it as a snack-- except for the fact that you get a mouthful of rather gummy tea leaf residue once the crunch has worn off. When wet, the leaves took on a beautiful citrus-grape and seashore aroma. It's the aroma that is so intoxicating with this type of tea, really.
The liquor: pale greenish, clean. It's highly fragrant, and this Long Jing is as good as any I've ever had. It's refreshing, like the aroma of freshest grass clippings, like citrus, like lemon...
I can't wait until next Spring to be able to buy the 2010 Long Jing. This tea is best purchased right around the time of picking, so when it's drunk, it'll be at its best. When I took the tasting notes on this tea, it was only a couple weeks after it had been harvested. (Sad, how long it took me to finish the rest of the article! I'm trying to catch up, really I am.) You would not really want to buy or taste a Longjing in midwinter, for example, because by then the leaves would have lost their "oomph." Green tea, in particular, is a seasonal, vintage product, and it's best enjoyed on those terms.