Among an estimated 2,000 Chinese teas, Longjing (Dragon Well) is the one that constantly ranks first on lists of the most famous Chinese teas.
Picking Longjing tea at Meijiawu in Hangzhou. 采摘梅家塢龍井
Some Chinese tea connoisseurs refer to the tea produced in middle of Zhejiang province as the "gentleman" of teas. Known for its slightly yellow tinged green color, rich orchid and chestnut aroma, as well as its sweet aftertaste and neat appearance, it is so highly prized that in 2012, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Russian President Vladimir Putin some Longjing as a gift for his 60th birthday.
The appellation also probably comes because the tea has a long history. On almost every authoritative top 10 famous Chinese teas listings, Longjing rises to the top. In 2008, the roasting production technique of West Lake Longjing tea was listed as a Chinese national-level intangible cultural heritage.
Spreading out the Longjing tea leaves for further processing.
The tea leaves undergo its first roasting.
A tea with such high status has legends and tales around it worthy of a TV series. Firstly, there really is a “dragon well”, a small pool of spring water located at the northwest foot of Wengjia Mountain to the west of West Lake in Hangzhou. According to a local legend, which is, of course, unconfirmed, the pool is believed to have a dragon in it. And the said dragon can access the sea through, presto, a subterranean channel. That’s also where the Dragon Well village and the Dragon Well temple are situated.
The history of tea making in the West Lake area dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). That dates the written history of tea in the area to more than 1,500 years. By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Longjing was listed among the top Chinese teas. It reached the top of the list during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), especially because of recognition from Emperor Qianlong.
Second roasting for tea to take shape, 10 minutes.
Partly because of the area’s early prosperity, Qianlong visited the region six times in his reign of 61 years, and is said to have watched tea making on four visits. He wrote poems about tea making and tea drinking, and designated 18 tea shrubs in front of Hugong Temple as “imperial tea”. Longjing then became a tribute to emperors. It has also been given to foreign leaders as a state gift.
Some of the best-known West Lake Longjing brand names are those from Shifeng (Lion’s Peak), Wengjia Mountain, Yunqi (Cloud Dwell), Hupao (Tiger Run) and Meijiawu, all areas around the West Lake. With fertile lands and mountains on three sides, the area stops chilly winds from the north while retaining warm air currents from the south. That favorable geographical feature, along with superior local water quality, helps to produce a great tea.
Screening out incomplete leaves篩選
While West Lake Longjing is the representative of the tea variety, many other parts of middle Zhejiang also produce great Longjing. Hangzhou’s Qiantang district and Yuezhou district produce good Longjing tea. Xinchang in Shaoxing produces Da Fo Longjing, which has become better known over the years.
As an anti-counterfeiting measure, in July 2011, Hangzhou’s West Lake district’s Longjing Tea Industry Association received a geographical indications trademark for Longjing tea, which means other regions cannot use the brand name West Lake Longjing to promote their teas.
Shouhui, drying with limestone, for 7-15 days. 收灰（成品）
Apart from other preparations, the tea goes through the traditional step of shouhui — limestone, wrapped in paper, is put in a pile of tea to reduce the heat of roasting and absorb the grassy odor. This step also helps to increase the tea’s aroma and make it more suitable for storing.
Longjing tea is one of the most expensive varieties in China. Teas made in early spring can sell for more than 1,000 yuan ($154) per 500 grams. The tea is picked 30 times each year until autumn, so buyers can always find more affordable prices. Some tea store also sells as little as 50 grams so anyone can get to try even the most expensive tea.
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