Dragon Well tea is probably the best known tea from China. It comes from the Longjing region in the mountains near Hangzhou in Zhenjiang province. The word ‘Longjing’ means Dragon Well and this is where the tea gets its English name. The region itself has always been famous in China, but it is starting to see more international visitors as well.
The Longjing region is characterized by steep mountainsides and very high humidity. Summers are sweltering and rains fall nearly everyday. This combination makes for tea leaves with a high chlorophyll content in the leaves, which means they also have more nutrients than usual, including a high number of catechins.
Dragon Well tea is pan-fried to stop the oxidation process early on, leaving it virtually unfermented. It is mostly produced by hand. The high quality is the reason it has been bestowed with the ‘China Famous Tea‘ title. The leaves steep to a yellow-green color.
In China, Longjing Tea is often brewed in a simple tall glass, but a gaiwan is also often used. The advantage of the glass is that you can watch the long leaves unfurl and slowly sink to the bottom as they release their essence into the water. The water used to prepare Dragon Well should be around 75 degrees Celcius. Traditionally, this tea was brewed in a purple clay teapot known as an yixing. This is still the best way to get the most amount of flavor from your tea leaves.
The highest quality varieties can be quite expensive, but you can find lower quality leaves that are much cheaper, too. Longjing tea is divided into six grades. The highest quality is called superior and the others are graded 1 through 5. The higher qualities are recognizable by tender leaves that are all of a uniform size after they have been infused. Before infusion, they are light green and have a tight, flat shape.
Authentic Dragon Well tea comes only from the West Lake area of Hangzhou. These days, this type of tea is produced in a number of provinces around China, but none of the copies come close to the complex flavor and aroma of the original. Sometimes the copies are labeled as such, but often they are falsely labeled as coming from Xihu (West Lake). You’ll also find teas labeled as high quality that have a few top quality leaves mixed in with a bunch of lower quality ones. It can be difficult to find a credible seller, making it hard to know if you are getting an authentic tea.
If you do get a top quality Longjing tea from the West Lake are of Zhejiang province, you’ll most likely fall in love with the delicate taste and aroma. Good quality Dragon Well is one of my favorite teas and one I love drinking all day long. To ensure you get the real thing, I recommend buying your tea from an online tea shop. If you have one you trust, they will almost certainly carry this variety of tea, as it is very popular.