I don’t drink a lot of green tea. Ironically, I don’t have the “gong fu” to make it well. I also have expensive tastes when it comes to green tea. My good friend sells a Dragon Well tea that is priced at $4,500 per 50 grams. I tried it once, it was pure magic. She did tell me that nobody ever buys the tea for that much, but even at the lowest price it’s not in a price range that I can afford. Top grade Dragon Well is one of the most expensive teas in the world. I’ve heard that the best stuff is not sold, but is reserved for high government officials. My favorite green teas are probably Taiping Monkey King and Dragon Well (龙井). I’ll save the monkeyking around for another article.
Named after a round pool that was believed by the ancients to contain a dragon, longjing means “dragon well”. By any accounts, it is one of the 10 most loved teas of China, foremost among them according to some. It is produced in Zhejiang. Xihu longjing is the most famous, but Qiantang and Yuezhou longjings are also quite popular. The largest producer of Xihu Longjing is Shifeng, and it was Shifeng Longjing that the Emperor Qianlong brought back for his sick wife in the 18th century. It didn’t magically cure her, as you might expect, only reduced some inflammation and made her happy. Thereafter, 18 plants at Hugong Temple became imperial tea plants. I’d like to try some of that tea!
The best tea is picked before the spring cleaning festival for the ancestors (清明), and is called 明前茶. If picked before the rains, it is still of high quality and called 雨前茶. There is a saying, “Picked early it is treasure, picked late it is grass“.
Traditionally, Xihu Longjing has a 4 sub-varieties based on where they were grown: 狮 from Shifeng, 龙 from Longjing, 云 from Yunqi, and 虎 from Hupao. Meijiawu (梅家坞) now produces great tea these days as well. There is no longer a strict hierarchy of where the best longjing comes from. So long as the tea comes from one of the seven main areas of production (Qiantang and Yuezhou included) and it is well processed, it should be of good quality. It is important that longjing is fired in an iron pot heated electrically to exactly 250 degrees celsius in batches of 250 grams.
At first there were 11 grades of Longjing. Later, 特级 divided into 3 distinct grades and each other grade divided into five each. That made 53 grades! In time the grading system was simplified to only 43 grades (thank god). In 1995 a new system of four grades was adopted and immediately abandoned. In the same year a six grade system was developed and is now in common use.
特级 – One bud and one leaf (just showing) — Flat, bright, and smooth.
一级 – One bud (just opening) and one leaf; One bud and two leaves (just showing) — Relatively flat and smooth.
二级 – One bud two leaves (just opening) — Relatively flat.
三级 – One bud two leaves (just opening); Some with two opposing leaves qualify — Still somewhat flat.
四级 – One bud two leaves; Three leaves; Two opposing leaves — Still somewhat flat, relatively wide, lacking luster.
五极 – One bud three leaves; Two opposing leaves — Having a rough appearance.
I went to a teas hop near where I live to check on their longjing. It was of the 5th grade and sells for $10 for 2oz on their website. Surprisingly, they would not make me a sample. Many westerners like 5th grade longjing more than the higher grades because it has more bitter green taste. Personally, I never drink low grade green tea because my stomach gets 寒. “Cold stomach” is characterized by a sharp pain in the stomach. I hate to admit constitutional weakness, but this is the real reason that I don’t drink a lot of green tea.
I hope that the Chinese and facts relevant to buying tea I offer can help you. Please comment below about how I can be of greater service to you.