Monday, February 06, 2012

Monday's Green tea -- Longjng

西湖龙井

Long ago, around 250 AD, in the Hangzhou region of the Zhejiang province of ancient China, a small town of poor tea farmers was feeling the tense grip of a great drought. With no rain, the leaves of the ancient tea plants began to yellow and fall to the cracking soil. Days went on -- no sign of rain. A town meeting was held to discuss their fate.

A Taoist priest selected a young man to climb to the top of a nearby mountain. They were told by their great-great grandparents that an old water dragon had once built a nest. Prayers to the dragon would deliver the town from sure ruin.

For three arduous days the young man climbed the precarious incline, sleeping only enough to shake off the drowsiness. Early on the fourth day he climb one more peak and then it saw it! He rushed to the top of the mountain, excited to have finally found the dragon! His town would now be saved! But alas, all he found was an collapsed ancient shrine made of rocks he had not seen before, and a dark empty well.

No dragon was to be found.

Overwhelmed by disbelief, the disheartened young man fell to the ground, kneeling to the shrine. All day and all night the young man lay upon the broken altar praying that his town be saved from the clutches of the drought. Soon he could keep his eyes open no longer. His dreams held the images of a great beast that swirled in the clouds, gathering them together and swirling them in a frenzy. The clouds change from a pillowy white to a dark, gloomy gray.

Soon he was awoken by the heavy drops that quickly soaked his clothes. He climbed to the highest peak and saw that both the mountain and his arid town below were drenched with a life-saving rain. He walked to the well beside the altar and noticed that it was now full, and he was delighted and mystified to see the different layers of water seeming to swirl round and around each other, like a dragon chasing his own tail.

He returned to his village to find that his prayers had saved the tea crops.

He never spoke to any of his fellow villagers of his dreams or what he witnessed on that high mountain peak, but every year he returned to the summit to pray at the broken altar. Every year he noticed, even as his bones grew brittle and his body weak, that the well next to the shrine never seemed to lose any water, and the swirling layers moved endlessly as the dragon endeavored to catch that tail.

As he became on old man, and he knew he time on the earth would be soon ending, he passed his story along to his many grandchildren. Annually, they would take the trip up the mountain to pay homage to the altar and the well with the water dragon, which became known as the Long Jing, or Dragon Well.

Other legends hold that:

1) When locals were digging the well found a stone shaped like a dragon and so they named the well Dragon Well. (kinda boring, huh?)

2) The well’s water is particularly dense. After rainstorms, the lighter rain water floats on the surface of the water and exhibits a twisting pattern which resembles the long and sinuous bodies of Chinese dragons. (a little more exciting, but I like the longer story better...)

And now ... about the tea!

First ... where is it grown

There are a lot of non-authentic Dragonwell teas available on today's market. Authentic Long Jing or Dragon Well tea comes from the area around West Lake in the Hangzhou regions of the Zhejiang province in southern China, an area held in the embrace of many hills and mountains peaks. This area is celebrated as ‘paradise on earth,’ a water wonderland, and a favorite imperial retreat. These high peaks keep cold air sweeping from north from reaching the tender and delicate Longjing tea growing in low-lying areas. So your Longjing green Chinese tea matured in a warm climate with a pleasant average temperature of about 61°F. The best Long Jing is from Lion Mount.

Throughout the year, the warm weather brings almost 5 feet of rainfall to the area. And almost 100% humidity makes clouds and fog that keep the burning sunlight from destroying the tender buds of the Longjing Chinese tea.

There is also a unique sandy soil on these hills. The white, porous earth is excellent at draining water and contains rich amounts of vital minerals like silicon and kalium for this special Chinese tea. Luxurious silks also come from this region, as the soil and climate are perfect for growing mulberry, the sole food of silkworms.

What does it look like?

It is easily recognized by it's The present-day flat shape of Dragon Well Tea is said to have something to do with Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. Legend has it (Yes ... another legend!) that on one of his inspection tours to Hangzhou, Emperor Qianlong disguised himself as an ordinary man and came to the Hugong Temple at the foot of Shifeng Mountain near Dragon Well Village. An old monk served him some Dragon Well Tea of the West Lake. After drinking it, Emperor Qianlong instantly felt refreshed and fell in love with the sweet-smelling tea. “Sparrow-shaped leaves and subtle aromas, trickling down my throat like a pleasant breeze'' he noted in one of his poems. And so he personally picked some tea leaves and hurriedly placed inside his pocket to bring them back to the capital city.

After the long journey, the tender tea leaves were pressed flat but still greatly praised by the empress dowager. Emperor Qianlong therefore deemed the tea to be "imperial tea" and ordered the annual supply of tea leaves be baked flat exclusive enjoyment of the empress dowager. Or so the legend goes ... The flat shape of Dragon Well tea is generally believed to be influenced by Dafang tea of neighboring Anhui area in the late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

And how does it taste?

It is said to be known for its four wonders ... its emerald green color, aromatic flavor, sweet taste and beautiful appearance. It's taste is mellow, refreshing, slightly sweet and perhaps finishing a bit nutty. It has an exquisite lingering fragrance.

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