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Dragonwell Tea (Long Jing)
The stories are fabulous, honestly, a large collection of tea fairy tales and historical events that I cannot possibly cover here, so I’ll try to pick my favorites. The name comes from the place where it was first grown, and the finest examples still are grown, in the Westlake (Xi Hu) area of Hangzhou in the coastal province of Zhejiang. Here the wells are spring fed, so when the mineral-heavy spring water mixes with rain that’s fallen into the wells, the light refracts oddly through the water, as if something were coiling up in it. This is, of course, the dragon, which is said to have rescued local crops from drought when prayed to. The region is cited in the eighth century book “Cha Jing,” which means, roughly, “The Classic of Tea.”

The tea itself got its biggest boost around the eighteenth century, when it was declared “Gong Cha,” imperial or tribute tea, by the emperor. It is said that the Qianlong emperor tasted a cup of it on a visit to the region, while he was in the Hu Gong temple, and was so impressed he granted the eighteen tea bushes in front of the temple imperial status. These tea bushes are still alive, and still being harvested from. Without an imperial family, their tea now goes to the highest bidder, which means it can end up costing more than its weight in gold. The Qianlong Emperor is also said to have tried picking some himself, but was called away in the middle of it with news that his mother was ill. He rushed back home to her with the leaves still in his sleeves, and when she asked about the lovely aroma he made her a cup of tea from them. She was, of course, immediately restored to health! Ever since, Dragonwell tea leaves have been flattened, to mimic the leaves crushed in the emperor’s sleeves.
I could go on all day with these stories, that’s two paragraphs even without the one that says the tribute tea was picked by virgins using only their teeth, and at some point I should mention the tea. The tea itself! Quite nice, very much the epitome of Chinese greens with a mellow sweetness that reviewers are required to describe as like
chestnuts, or else the tea review ninjas

break through the window of your office and drag you off for re-education. The sweetness is definitely there, without being overwhelming, and there’s a lower tone, particularly in the aftertaste, that I could understand being described as nutty. You get a nice yellow color from the liquor, and the leaves themselves are also a pretty yellow-green.

This is traditionally described as “jade green,” which tells you more about how expensive Dragonwell is than what it looks like, considering the range of colors jade comes in. The tea review ninjas are now telling me that I had better mention the sweet fragrance and that distinctive flat shape. One variety of Dragonwell is called Bird’s Tongue (Que She), because some cheery person thought that’s what the flat, tapered leaves looked like. Yum. I promise, they don’t taste like birds’ tongues, they taste like a lovely mellow tea, that probably, in the end, deserves all the type.

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