Meet the Tea: Dragonwell
Dragonwell, aka, Longjing, is a green tea that hails from the West Lake region of China’s Zhejiang Province. It is well known for both the flat shape of the leaves and its distinctive chestnut aroma. The taste is mellow and sweet, making it a perfect starter green tea. Floral notes and a crisp vegetal character are also to be expected but a well made dragonwell will have no bitterness.
There are several legends that surround this famous tea. In a city by the same name, there is a well that was said to be inhabited by a dragon. The local people would pray to it for rain when there is a drought. I have heard from several people who have visited the well that after rain, the lighter rainwater floats on top of the dense well water creating a rippling effect. It is this curious phenomenon that is believed to be the source of the legend.
Another story tells of Emperor Qian long visiting a temple and watching the ladies picking tea. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to give it a try.While he was picking the tea he received a message that his mother was ill. In his haste to leave he shoved the leaves into his sleeve. When the Emperor visited his mother, she noticed the smell of the leaves and he had it brewed for her. It is said that the distinctive flat shape of Long Jing is designed to mimic those leaves.
Leaves that are destined to become Dragonwell are roasted within a few hours after plucking. As they are heated on the wok-like roaster the tea maker firmly but gently presses them against with sides of the pan. Repeating this step many times effectively folds the leaves into a sword shape. Although this step was traditionally done by hand, machines are often used now in order to increase production.
Eric from Tea Geek posted a great video of his experience making Dragonwell in Hangzhou last year.
There are five mountain peaks in the West Lake region where Dragonwell is made. Not all tea companies will reveal where their dragonwell is from but the good ones will give you very specific information. In order of desirability they are:
- Shifeng – Lion’s Peak
- Longjing Village – Dragon’s Peak
- Yunxi – Cloud Peak
- Hupao – Tiger’s Peak
- Meijawu – Plum Peak
The plucking standard is another important factor in Dragonwell. Higher quality examples are comprised almost entirely of terminal buds. Larger leaves that are more than “two leaves and a bud” are generally considered to be a sign of a poorly made tea. The first Dragonwell harvest of the year is generally the most prized. This is referred to as “pre-Qingming” as the tea is made before tomb sweeping day (April 4th or 5th). Many tea sellers will sell pre-orders of this tea before the leaves are even taken off the bushes. For this reason, the early budding cultivar Longjing #43 is often favored over classic varieties.
Dragonwell is typically prepared with water that is less than boiling, around 175-180°. Western-style steep times will range between 1 and 3 minutes. If you’re going gongfu, infusions of 15 to 30 seconds are par for the course. My personal preference is to use glass vessels. The leaves are just too beautiful to not watch them dance around. You’ll want to avoid heavy materials like yixing clay because they retain too much heat. One of the most popular ways to drink Dragonwell is “grandpa style”. Just place a small amount of leaves in a tall glass and fill with hot water. Strain with your teeth as you drink and refill with more hot water as you go.
These are some of the dragonwells that I have reviewed here on the blog:
Do you have a favorite dragonwell? Let me know about it in the comments!