Dragonwell First Harvest 2020
March 25, 2020
Baihefeng, Hangzhou, Zhejiang
The more accurate name for Longjing is Xihu Longjing. Xihu refers to West Lake in Hangzhou—a mesmerising lake surrounded by beautiful classical gardens, pagodas, and temples. Hills and mountains surround the lake on three sides.
Terroir is of fundamental importance to Longjing. Following tradition, the core producing regions of Longjing in Xihu are separated into five areas that correspond to the mountains: Shi (Lion), Long (Dragon), Yun (Cloud), Hu (Tiger), Mei (Mume). Shi is Shifeng Lion’s Peak, Long is Wengjiashan of Longjing Village, Yun is Yunxi, Wuyunshan (Five Cloud Mountain), Hu is Hupao, Mei is Meijiawu.
Our Longjing is from Baihefeng or White Crane Peak, which belongs to the Long (Dragon) subdivision of the core producing region, 6 km southwest of Xihu West Lake.
The uniqueness of Longjing from Baihefeng is a result of both the soil and cultivar of the tea plants. The soil in Baihefeng is unique: i) it is a white sandy soil composed mostly of small pebble-sized fragments of white quartzite that has been weathered and eroded; ii) it is rich in minerals, which are absorbed by the tea plants. The only other mountain with this specific soil in the region is Shifeng.
The cultivar is an indigenous varietal called Quntizhong—a more traditional cultivar than the more generic Longjing #43—and tastes more like old-style Longjing. Quntizhong is an inherited varietal, dating back to the Qing Dynasty more than 350 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the tea trees of this varietal were widely cut down in the 80s to allow for the growth of Longjing #43 which had a higher yield, as well as leaves that were better looking and more uniform.
The leaves are Mingqian or Pre-Qingming. Qingming is one of the Chinese solar terms; this year, it was on April 4. The ancient Chinese created 24 solar terms or seasons for the year based on the sun’s moment. The terms were used to schedule farming work and agriculture affairs. The 24 solar terms were seasonal turning points and reflect changes in climate and natural phenomena. Qingming literally translates to “clear and bright”; it is the fifth solar term of the year and it marks the beginning of rise in temperatures. Mingqian or Pre Qingming teas are teas made before Qingming solar term, when the weather is cooler, the leaves are not damaged by pests, and the leaves grow slowly leading to much lower yield. They are tiny, yet fat and plump, tender and full of active nutrients.
The leaves are handpicked every morning at around 5am, following a strict picking standard of one-bud-one-leaf. Each person is only able to pick 500g to 1000g of fresh leaves each day due to the high picking standards.
Next, the fresh leaves are set out on a bamboo mat and withered for 4-8 hours, depending on the temperature, humidity, and the amount of sunlight each day. The leaves are then pan fried by hand in small batches for two rounds. The first round (known as the “kill-green” process) is to shape and flatten the leaves, and usually takes around 10 minutes. The second round of pan frying takes around 30 minutes and the experience of the tea maker is crucial here, as a series of different hand movements are required throughout this process - shaking, pushing, holding, pressing and rubbing. Our tea maker pan fries the leaves when the pan has reached an extremely high temperature of 300°C. The high heat reduces the moisture of the leaves quicker which halts the oxidation of the leaves sooner. This technique takes years of experience to perfect and it ensures the tea has a better aroma and less astringency.
After pan frying, the leaves are aged with limestone in a large earthenware vessel for 5 days - an important last step in making traditional Longjing. The limestone helps to absorb any remaining moisture in the leaves without absorbing the aromas.
The finished tea tastes unmistakably Longjing, like pan-fried fava beans. In our opinion, it has the most distinct notes of green teas. It tastes like sweet dew on a crisp spring morning, the sensation of light and freshness is hard to put into words. On the nose it is very aromatic and floral.