There are many stories associated with Chinese teas, and one of our favourites is how the famous tea Long Jing / Dragon Well green tea got its name.
In ancient China, dragons were believed to have the ability to control the rain, which was essential for agricultural prosperity. As a result, dragons were revered for their role in ensuring a good tea harvest and general well-being.
According to one of the legends associated with Dragon Well tea, a dragon lived in a well near the West Lake, and when the dragon moved, it caused rain. The locals made offerings to the dragon to ensure a good harvest.
Another legend tells of a monk who predicted a drought and told the people to pray for rain. The villagers followed his advice and a dragon appeared, bringing rain to the parched land. In gratitude, the locals named the local well “Dragon Well” and the tea grown in the area was named after him.
Whichever legend you believe, the association with dragons and mythical creatures adds a touch of mysticism to the history of Dragon Well tea. Over the centuries, the tea has become renowned for its distinctive flat, sword-shaped leaves, delicate aroma and sweet, nutty flavour. Long Jing tea is typically pan-fried to stop the oxidation process and preserve its fresh and vibrant green colour.
West Lake Dragon Well tea
West Lake Dragon Well tea, or Long Jing tea, is considered special and highly prized for several reasons:
- Geographical Indication: West Lake Long Jing tea is protected under Geographical Indication status, which means that only tea produced in one of the seven villages in the designated West Lake region in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province can be officially labelled as West Lake Long Jing tea. This GI emphasises the link between the tea and its specific place of origin, highlighting the unique environmental factors that contribute to its flavour and characteristics.
- Unique Terroir: The West Lake region provides an ideal environment for growing tea. The combination of soil composition, altitude, climate and humidity in this area contribute to the distinctive taste and aroma of Dragon Well tea. The tea bushes benefit from the foggy climate and nutrient-rich soil, which enhances the quality of the leaves.
- Traditional growing and harvesting methods: Longjing tea is often grown using traditional methods, with meticulous attention to detail at every stage of production. West Lake Dragon well is made by individual tea artisans and master tea makers who may produce limited quantities of high-quality tea using traditional and artisanal methods. These tea masters have a deep understanding of tea craftsmanship and may specialize in specific tea varieties. The emphasis on careful hand picking ensures that only the finest buds and leaves are selected, contributing to the premium quality of the tea.
- Traditional Pan-firing processing: Dragon Well tea is processed using the traditional hand held pan-firing method, where the leaves are rapidly heated in large pans to stop oxidation. This step helps to preserve the tea’s vibrant green colour, fresh aroma and delicate flavour. The hand held pan-firing technique is a crucial aspect of West Lake Longjing tea production and requires skill and precision.
- Cultural and historical significance: Longjing tea has a rich history dating back to ancient China and is often associated with cultural and historical events. It has been enjoyed by emperors and scholars throughout the centuries, adding to its prestige and cultural significance.
Tonglu Dragon Well tea
While West Lake Dragon Well tea is often the focus of attention due to its historical significance and reputation, Tonglu is a county in the western part of Zhejiang Province, China, known for producing its own excellent version of Dragon Well tea. As with West Lake, the terroir, climate and soil conditions in Tonglu contribute to the tea’s distinctive flavour profile.
Tonglu County, also in Zhejiang Province, enjoys a similar terroir to West Lake. The main difference between Tonglu Dragon Well tea and West Lake Dragon Well tea is how the tea is processed. Although still harvested by hand, Tonglu Long Jing is produced on a much larger, albeit sustainable, scale. The teas are processed in a modern, state-of-the-art factory owned by a 78-year-old tea master whose family has been in the tea business for three generations. The tea growing area consists of several areas (plots) at altitudes ranging from 100 to around 350 metres above sea level, and the new Qiantan factory uses modern machinery that simulates the hand movements that would be made in West Lake during pan firing. Although Tonglu Long Jing is a factory made tea, as it does not carry the prestigious West Lake label, it is of an incredibly high quality and extremely good value for such a high quality tea.
Dragon Well tea from other areas
Long Jing tea is known for its unique flat, smooth appearance and smooth, mellow flavour. The leaves are often described as having the shape of a spear or sword. This distinctive shape is achieved through a combination of hand pressing during processing and the specific varieties grown in the region.
Both West Lake Long Jing and Tonglu Long Jing demonstrate the craftsmanship of Chinese tea production and the influence of terroir on the characteristics of the final product. As with any tea, individual preferences may vary and some people may find that they prefer one Dragon Well tea over another based on their personal taste preferences.
Dragon Well style teas are available from various regions, including most recently from an innovative project called Tea Studio in the Nigiri Hills of South India. As tea merchants, we have tasted many Long Jing style teas and the Tea Studio tea is by far the best Indian green tea we have ever tasted, but none of the other teas we have tried can match the quality of those from Zhejiang province. When buying Dragon Well tea, it is advisable to look for teas that explicitly state their origin and date of production.