What Is Longjing Tea?

Andrew Kirmayer

Made for more than a millennium in China, Longjing tea originates from Zhengjiang Province in the eastern part of the country. Translated as "dragon well" in English, this tea is known for its distinct taste and quality. Seven grades are produced, with first grade representing the highest quality of the teas, and seven the lowest. The plants for this type of green tea grow in phosphorous-laden, acidic soil, in moist areas that remain relatively warm in the winter. Longjing tea has been used in Chinese medicine and has antioxidants, which help fight off heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses, like other kinds of green tea.

Longjing tea is a type of green tea.
Longjing tea is a type of green tea.

The origin of Longjing tea is an area called West Lake, which is located in the capital of Zhenjiang Province. Tea grown in this region is called Xi Hu Longjing. The area where the tea is grown has been expanded from the original location by the lake and Lion Peak Mountain. This entire part of the province has a climate with moderate temperatures of around 61°F (about 16&deg:C) as well as abundant rainfall. The streams and plants are nourished by the common mist and fog over the area, which hover over the elevated topography.

In addition to Xi Hu Longjing tea, the main varieties also include Qian Tang Longjing, a less expensive variety, and Bai Longjing which is known for its ability to relieve stress. Shi Feng and Mei Jia Wu Longjing are other varieties of the tea produced by China. Harvesting the tea leaves is a precise process. Xi Hu Longjing tea, for example, is harvested in the spring; the earlier this is done the more desirable the tea is considered locally. Workers that pick the tea plants can only remove the terminal bud along with a couple of leaves next to it.

Once the Xi Hu Longjing tea leaves are picked, they are dried for up to 10 hours. This concentrates the theanine, which gives the tea most of its taste. Workers then roast the leaves using bare hands, which involves 10 skilled hand movements during the roasting process. The two steps in roasting include straightening and flattening the leaves to form the shape of a spear. They are then left to cool and dry to prevent oxidation. Leaves are also pan-fried, in contrast to most forms of green tea which are steamed, creating a completely different quality to the finished product.

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