Longjing tea

15:20, April 01, 2010      

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Longjing tea (simplified Chinese: 龙井茶) or Dragonwell is a famous variety of green tea from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China where it is produced mostly by hand and has been renowned for its high quality, earning the China Famous Tea title. Longjing is divided into seven grades: Superior, Special, and then 1 down to 5.

Long Jing is often called the national drink of China and is frequently given to visiting heads of state. It is also a favorite tea of today's top leaders, with a portion of production reserved for government customers.

Like most other Chinese green tea, Longjing tea leaves are heated early in processing (after picking) to stop the natural "fermentation" process, which is a part of creating black and oolong teas. In the world of tea, the term "fermentation" refers to the actions of natural enzymes, present in the leaves, on the juices and tissues of the leaf; this is not "fermentation" in the true sense of the term (as, for example, the action of yeast in producing beer). The actions of these enzymes is stopped by 'firing' (heating in pans) or by steaming the leaves before they completely dry out. As is the case with other green teas (and 'white teas'), Longjing tea leaves are therefore "unfermented." When steeped, the tea produces a yellow-green color, a gentle, pure aroma, and a rich flavor. The tea contains Vitamin C, amino acids, and has one of the highest concentration of catechins among teas, second only to white teas.

The name of this tea literally means "dragon well", a well that contains relatively dense water, and after rain the lighter rainwater floating on its surface sometimes exhibits a sinuous and twisting boundary with the well water, which is supposed to resemble the movement of a traditional Chinese dragon.

Tradition has it that to achieve the best taste from Longjing, water from the Dreaming of the Tiger Spring, a famous spring in Hangzhou, is to be used. Water is boiled then cooled to about 80 degrees Celsius before being used to brew the tea leaves. Tea experts at Xi Hu insist on using fine china or glasses to brew Longjing (minerals in porous earthenware such as Zisha may disrupt the taste of the tea).

History and Legends

Longjing tea was granted the status of Gong Cha, or Imperial tea, in Qing Dynasty by Chinese emperor Kangxi. According to the legend, Kangxi's grandson Qianlong visited West Lake during one of his famous holidays.

He went to the Hu Gong Temple under the Lion Peak Mountain (Shi Feng Shan) and was presented with a cup of Longjing tea. In front of the Hu Gong Temple were 18 tea bushes. Emperor Qianlong was so impressed by the Longjing tea produced here that he conferred these 18 tea bushes special imperial status. The trees are still living and the tea they produce is auctioned annually for more money per gram than gold.

There is another legend connecting Emperor Qianlong to Longjing Tea. It is said that while visiting the temple he was watching the ladies picking the tea. He was so enamored with their movements that he decided to try it himself. While picking tea he received a message that his mother, the Empress Dowager was ill and wished his immediate return to Beijing. He shoved the leaves he had picked into his sleeve and immediately left for Beijing. Upon his return he immediately went to visit his mother. She noticed the smell of the leaves coming from his sleeves and he immediately had it brewed for her. It is said that the shape of Longjing Tea was designed to mimic the appearance of the flattened leaves that the emperor brewed for his red headed step-children.

Varieties

Xi Hu (西湖) Longjing

Is an example of the very standard convention of naming, the Xi Hu (West Lake) is a place where this particular Longjing is grown. This Longjing, also known as West Lake Longjing is a China Famous Tea, in fact the most famous one and is grown in the Zhejiang Province near Xi Hu lake. It is grown in a designated area of 168 square kilometres. Historically, Xi Hu longjing tea was divided into four sub-regions: Lion (Shi), Dragon (Long), Cloud (Yun) and Tiger (Hu). As the distinction between the sub-regions blurred over the years, this categorisation has now been adjusted to Shi Feng Longjing, Mei Jia Wu Longjing, with the remaining known collectively as Xi Hu longjing, although the Lion variety is still considered the "crème de la crème" by connoisseurs.

Bird's Tongue Longjing

First growth picked on March 21 yields a more intense aroma and taste of sweetness than the better known Ming Qian Longjing. Supply solely depends on yearly climate therefore it can be expensive. [2009 Data:1200 RMB per 500gm for Bird's Tongue; 900 RMB for Ming Qian at Xi Hu Tea Village]. It is not necessarily more expensive since you will need less for the cup.

Pre-Qingming Longjing

The premium early season first-picking known as Ming Qian or Pre-Qingming (or Before Ching Ming) Longjing tea, requires it to be produced from the very tender first spring shoots prior to the Qingming Festival on the 5th of April each year (approximately). The production cycle is very short; only ten days before Qingming every year. Tea picked after this period is of a lower grade called Yu Qian Longjing (雨前龍井), or "Dragon Well Before the Rain". In the 10-day span when Ming Qian Longjing is produced, the sprouts at the tip of the stalks are only hand-picked by experienced workers, and then specially processed; as a result, Pre-Qingming Longjing is more expensive than "standard" Longjing tea.

Shi Feng Longjing

A type of Xi Hu Longjing. This tea is considered the highest quality in China[citation needed]. Fresh tasting, its fragrance is sharp and long lasting. Its leaves are yellowish green in colour. Some unscrupulous tea makers over pan-fry their tea to imitate its colour.

Mei Jia Wu Longjing

A type of Xi Hu Longjing. This tea is renowned for its attractive jade green colour. Early teas can fetch up to 6000 yuan per kilogram (2005 data) direct from the growers.

Bai Longjing

Not a true Longjing but looks like one and is commonly attributed, it is actually a Bai Pian. It comes from Anji in the Zhejiang Province. It was created in the early 80's and is a Green tea from a race of White tea trees and is hence very unusual, it is said to contain more amino acids than ordinary Green tea.

Qian Tang Longjing

This tea comes from just outside the Xi Hu Longjing designated area, in Qian Tang. It is generally not as expensive as Xi Hu Longjing.

Source: wikipedia

(Editor:石希)

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