The Legend of Dragonwell Green Tea10/28/2016
by Eliot Jordan and Danielle Hochstetter
The naming of tea is no small matter. It can tell you much about the character, nature, and origin of the tea. One of the oldest tea legends has it that in the village of Longjing, during the Qing dynasty, if you peered into the well you could see dragons circling in the water. Some say a dragon even lived in the well. I have been to 3 wells in Longjing and have yet to see any dragons. In one of the wells, you can’t even see the water. Instead, the well got the name because the water had different densities and when it swirled, it looked like there might be dragons in the water. In Chinese culture, dragons are very auspicious and symbolize long life. Seeing dragons in a well was considered a good thing—they weren’t the “eating people” kind of dragons. People try to have children born in the year of the dragon, which is the only mythical creature in the 12-year Chinese calendar cycle, just to give you an idea of how important the dragon is in Chinese culture. Speaking of culture, Dragonwell plays a key role in Chinese culture. Giving Dragonwell tea to your in-laws when you get married is a tradition in Hangzhou where the marriage ceremony lasts a whole day and at a particular point of the ceremony, the bride makes a cup of tea for her in-laws, bowing and presenting it to them. Tea has roots that go deep into the soil, so this is an indication that the marriage will have deep roots that are healthy. Giving a gift of Dragonwell tea in China is one of the most valuable gifts you can give, which has a lot to do with the history of Hangzhou, the province where Longjing is located. It’s a leisure city where scholars go to drink wine and compose poems. The poems find inspiration in the beauty of nature and how nature ties to feelings and themes of Chinese culture. For example, Longjing, a village in Hangzhou, is home to West Lake, a beautiful, manmade lake which has influenced poets and painters for hundreds of years. It is said to reflect “an idealized fusion between humans and nature” - this extends to the tea, Dragonwell (also known as Longjing.) This green tea is really well-known. You can even find drawings in ancient books showing Dragonwell being brewed.
In Hangzhou, China, different districts make up the city where a great portion is composed of tea fields. Dragonwell green tea is cultivated in the city, but also even as far as a day’s drive away. Once, I visited and sourced Dragonwell from a mountainous area about 3 hours away, away from any city and at a slightly higher elevation. Suffice it to say, Dragonwell is a big deal here. The telltale signs of Dragonwell green tea include flat leaves that consist of one leaf and a bud. It should look yellow-green without broken pieces or discolored pieces. It should feel slippery. When you brew Dragonwell, brew it in a glass where you can see the leaves standing up and down like spears. We offer two kinds of Dragonwell at Mighty Leaf. Our Organic Green Dragon tea pouches brew a very nice China green tea that’s rich, and buttery. Our Longjing loose tea is a little richer with a more buttery flavor and a fresh note of corn. Longjing is plucked earlier in the spring than Organic Green Dragon, plucked later in the year. Green Dragon is also organic—something pretty rare since there isn’t a lot of organic Dragonwell available. Both Organic Green Dragon and Longjing are blends and that’s pretty typical with Dragonwell teas. They’re made in small batches, so multiple farmers will contribute batches for a single blend, which gives us a standard, consistent flavor because they’re well blended. To brew a perfect cup of Dragonwell green tea, I’m very specific. I like the water to be 180ºF either brewed in a small teapot for 3 to 4 minutes, or, I like to drink it the way it’s enjoyed in China by using a big open mug with a few leaves in the bottom. The tea gets brewed in the mug and I keep refreshing it with water throughout the day.
I would agree totally with Eliot. The temperature is really important. I will typically brew about 4 grams of Dragonwell in 6 ounces of water for 2 to 3 minutes, taking out the leaves after steeping them. If I don’t have enough time, I will brew fewer leaves. I love brewing Dragonwell in glass. One thing I learned when I lived in China is that tea is not only about taste, but also about the visual elements. The whole experience is better with a nice wooden table, beautiful cups, and a ceramic pot. Perhaps you might even see a dragon circling inside your teacup. If so, here’s to your long life!