Dragon Well: A Famous Chinese Tea

Dragon Well (or Long Jing) tea has been famous in China since the Tang Dynasty. Known then as “Fragrant Forest Mist”, the famed Tang poet Su Dongpo likened the tea to a beautiful woman. The tea received its current name in the Ming Dynasty from a temple at Long Hong Shan. While workmen were digging a well, they pulled out a stone shaped like a dragon. The home of this tea is located in Dragon Well village, near Hangzhou’s West Lake in Zhejiang province; however, the modern-day growing area for this tea has spread throughout the entire province.

Dragon Well tea is famous for its four unique characteristics: jade green color, sweet fragrance, pure and mellow chestnut-like flavor and the beautiful shape of its leaves.

The making of Dragon Well tea is a unique, labor-intensive process that demands great skill from the tea maker. About 30,000 hand-plucked young tea shoots are required to make just one pound of finished tea. First, the tea is dried indoors on bamboo mats to reduce the water content by 15-20%. Then the tea is fired at high temperature in a wok, where the skilled worker uses 10 distinct hand movements to shape the tea. This firing kills the enzyme activity and removes the green, grassy taste. The tea is then cooled for about an hour then re-fired at a lower temperature. Finally, the tea is hand-graded by leaf size and packed.

The very best quality Dragon Well is picked in early spring (late March/early April), before the Qing Ming festival. Well-made tea has a slippery feel, a light glossy green appearance and gives off a sweet fragrance. Dragon Well tea can be classified by its grade and by the location where it is produced. The top grades of Dragon Well are known as Lotus Heart and Bird’s Tongue. These teas consist of the smallest buds or a small bud and leaf pair. The classic Dragon Well producing areas are West Lake, Lion’s Peak and Mei Jia Wu, although many traditional, good-quality Dragon Well teas are being made throughout Zhejiang province.