The fourth of our new Chinese greens to be written up is this lovely Dragonwell (long jing). Dragonwell is undisputed as the most famous green tea in China, and it always figures highly in China's "10 Famous Tea" lists. With Dragonwell's fame--which is worldwide at this point--come the usual issues that plague regional teas that gain more and more renown. At this point, many Westerners have heard and tried Dragonwell, but they may still know little of this tea's historical origins or what separates an expensive, premium Dragonwell from a middling one.
Dragonwell gets its name from a specific well in the city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. The original Dragonwell tea hails from the West Lake (Xi Hu) region of Hangzhou. The scenic lake is surrounded with foothills and mountains that support the most prized modern Dragonwell gardens, which produce the highest-quality and most expensive Dragonwell that can be found. Over several centuries, Xi Hu Longjing has become so famous that tea producers in Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces have begun producing teas in the same style and attempting to pass them off as Xi Hu Dragonwell. Unfortunately, that means that Dragonwell aficionados in the West and elsewhere often have no idea where the tea they're drinking came from, and they may also have never gotten a chance to taste truly high quality Dragonwell. These days, true Xi Hu Dragonwell is often accompanied by government-issued "Anti-Fake" labels designed to prove authenticity. As always, though, there's no substitute for experience and the measured judgment of seasoned taste buds. What does this all mean for you, the average tea drinker?
The best Dragonwell in the world still comes from the 168 square kilometers of protected area in the vicinity of Xi Hu. You can find numerous vendors willing to sell tea with a "Xi Hu" or "West Lake" appellation, but far fewer of them will be willing to provide an anti-fake label or go into great detail about how they managed to provide you with such high quality Dragonwell at a reasonable price. The vendors who provide anti-fake labels and go into the furthest depths describing the origins of the tea are almost always the ones who have nothing to hide. If you are interested in tracking down the real thing, my advice is to try a number of so-called Xi Hu Dragonwells from multiple different vendors who meet the above criteria. By educating your palate, you can learn to base your decisions on sensory experience and taste--the most important criterion! Even if you shell out an arm and a leg for the highest-quality, rarest Xi Hu Dragonwell, if you don't enjoy drinking it and if it tastes like it has flaws, its authenticity means nothing! Once you've tried a few different examples, you'll probably get a good idea of the flavor profile of great Dragonwell--light, active, sweet, with a lingering subtle hint of chestnut-like roundness, and above all, it has to taste fresh! I've had more than a few roasty, dull Dragonwells that were passed off as "West Lake." Today, I consider these experiences "tuition payments" for my Dragonwell education!
In attempting to discover just what Xi Hu Dragonwell really tastes like, I've also discovered something else--not all high-quality Dragonwell necessarily comes from Xi Hu! In reality, it's not really surprising--just like not all high-quality sparkling white wines are produced in the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of amazing Dragonwells produced outside the protected Xi Hu region. I've had a few quite impressive examples, such as "Bai" Long Jing (made from a white tea varietal) and a mouth-watering "Anji" Long Jing, made from the same leaves as Anji Bai Cha, another famous green tea. Neither of these teas was as expensive as Xi Hu Long Jing, but both offered comparable drinking pleasure. Almost as importantly, the vendors selling them made it clear that they weren't Xi Hu varieties!
It's with this general introduction to the frustrating but ultimately delicious phenomenon of Chinese Dragonwell tea that I'd like to introduce our new High Mt. Dragonwell. At this time, we haven't found a good enough supplier of representative, reasonably-priced Xi Hu Dragonwell, but we have managed to do the next best thing--we've sourced a lovely, fresh, delicious, and affordable grade of organic, mountain-grown Dragonwell from South of Hangzhou. This introduction has turned into such a rant that I'm going to call it an introductory article and post the tasting notes for our High Mt. Dragonwell separately. Fortunately, Dragonwell is so famous that you can find a great deal of in-depth info about it on the internet without searching too far, simply by using Wikipedia or searching Google. The more you know, the better you'll be able to find yourself some tea you'll never forget. Consider the forthcoming High Mt. Dragonwell a lengthy step in the right direction!