Longjing Tea, also known as Dragon Well Tea or XiHu (West Lake) Dragon Well Tea, is one of China’s top ten teas. This green tea comes from the village of Longjing and thanks to its superior quality and unique production method it was granted the title of “China Famous Tea”, and we’re going to be taking a look at the Longjing Tea benefits and what makes this stuff so nice.
Thanks to its growing popularity, more of this type of tea is being produced. However, it’s not all authentic. Broadly speaking, the real deal must come from the Zhejiang province and or from the XiHu district of China and not, as some look-alikes are, from Guangdong, Yunnan, Sichuan, or Guizhou provinces. The premium version is hand-produced and all the tea leaves have an elegant flat leaf shape.
When brewed, this tea is pale yellow-green and subtly aromatic. The taste is smooth and never bitter and leaves a mild, lingering after-taste. It’s believed that the geographical area and the high quality of the waters in and around West Lake have a great deal to do with why the tea is so special.
Longjing Tea: The History, Legend, and Myth
This green tea goes back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). It is thought that it was given its name during the southern Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) when tea production was being invested in and developed. But it was the philosopher-poet Emperor Qianlong (1735 – 1796) of the Qing Dynasty who introduced this tea to the rest of the world. There are several stories about how the Emperor, who was a great traveler, first discovered this tea.
The first version is that he was visiting tea plantations at Lion Peak Mountain (Shi Feng Shan) and was so interested in the tea-picking activities that he joined in. While doing so he received word that his mother was ill. In his haste to leave he placed the leaves he picked in the sleeve of his robe. On his return, his mother smelt the fragrance of the freshly-picked leaves and asked for tea to be made. The Emperor ordered it and after drinking it the Empress Dowager praised it as a tonic and a cure for all ills.
The alternative story is that Emperor Qianlong was presented with a cup of this tea at the Hu Gong Temple at the base of Lion Peak Mountain. He is said to have been immensely impressed and conferred special imperial status on the 18 tea bushes that grow in front of the temple. The tea from these bushes, all of which are still living and producing, is auctioned annually for a price per gram that exceeds that of gold!
But where does the name itself come from? The literal translation is “Dragon Well”. One not very colorful story is simply that it is derived from the village of the same name. A more interesting version is that this well contains water that is denser than normal. After rain the rainwater, which is lighter, floats and twists on the surface producing movement reminiscent of those of a Chines Dragon. In addition, a temple may also have lent its name to this tea.
Cultivation and production of Dragon Well Tea
The climate in Zhejiang province (mild with year-round rain and fog), the higher altitude, and the low levels of sun are all believed to help the leaves retain more theanine in dragon well tea as opposed to different varieties. This amino acid contributes to the special taste and health benefits.
The young buds are harvested in early spring. This first harvest yields the highest quality leaves and tea. Any leaves picked after April 5 are of a lower grade. The harvesting and roasting are both done by hand. It is believed that these skilled roasters, known as Tea Masters, can better judge the heat in the large iron pans by using their bare hands. They know exactly when to shake the pan, press or rub the leaves, etc. Another feature—although it is copied to make look-alike, non-authentic teas—is that the leaves are folded so they look like flattened sticks or tea leaves.
As with the majority of green teas produced in China, the leaves used for Longjing are roasted or “fired” soon after they are picked. Doing this before they dry out prevents the natural oxidization process. This is not only part of the unique color of this tea before and after steeping, but it is also key to why it offers more health benefits than other teas.
The varieties are determined by where the tea is cultivated and this in turn impacts on the quality… and the price. Fortunately all the types offer health benefits and superior taste. The cultivation and production regions are Lion Peak Mountain, Longjing Village, Tiger Running Temple, Five Cloud Mountain, and Meijiawu. These give rise to a number of teas but the five main varieties are:
- XiHu: the most famous of the West Lake Longjing teas and of a very high quality.
- Lion Peak or Shi Feng: this is the premium variety that has yellow-green leaves and hails from the original West Lake plantation.
- Mei Jia Wu: a high quality jade-green tea from the West Lake village that gives this variety its name.
- Quan Tang: tea masters don’t consider this (less expensive) variety to be a true Longjing tea as it grows outside the West Lake area.
- Bai or Bai Pian: this type has the same leaf shape after production and is particularly high in amino acids. Purists don’t consider it a true tea either as it is produced furthers from West Lake.
How can one tell what variety one is buying or if it is really Longjing tea? The packaging should specify the origin of the tea or indicate what ratio has been used in different varieties or teas have been mixed. The leaves before infusion should be flat, tightly folded, and light green in color. After steeping a high quality tea produces a yellow-green color whereas a poor quality one will be darker green or even slightly blue.
5 Longjing Tea Benefits To Consider
The health benefits of Longjing tea offered by this aromatic beverage are thanks to the high levels of theanine (amino acid), catechins (a natural phenol and antioxidant), vitamin C, and very low levels of caffeine. While there may not be clinical studies to support all these claims, centuries of anecdotal evidence does – and as we always say, first and foremost, drink it because you enjoy it. Not all of these benefits are concrete and written in stone, and this mainly serves to compile the different claims that are out there, some are backed up by studies, other aren’t, but here they are none the less. The primary health benefits are:
- Calms and soothes: the amino acid theanine or L-theanine helps to relax the mind while still allowing one to feel both energetic and alert.
- Lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels: thanks to the high levels of catechins—a powerful antioxidant—this tea allegedly helps to reduce both blood sugar and bad cholesterol. This helps to prevent both diabetes and coronary-artery and heart disease by removing fat and plaque deposits from artery walls.
- Boosts the immune system: the properties in this drink also help to boost the immune system by removing toxins and excess fats and sugar from the blood.
- Aids weight loss: while one still needs to modify one’s diet and do exercise, Dragon Well tea’s catechins and gentle amounts of caffeine boost the metabolism and help to promote weight loss. It’s a controversial topic, and if nothing else, it gives you a good alternative to unhealthy drinks.
- Dental health: there are trace amounts of minerals in this drink that help to reduce dental plaque and antioxidants can help to fight bad breath, but clearly drinking tea is never a substitute for proper oral care and dentist visits.
How to make it
Longjing Tea should be brewed with care so that optimal benefits, aroma, and flavor are obtained. The following guidelines are helpful:
- Ideally one should brew this drink in a traditional clay teapot. However, a porcelain lidded bowl or cup (a gaiwan) also works well.
- Use spring or filtered water so that chemicals and impurities often found in tap water don’t detract from or spoil the taste of the tea.
- The water temperature should be 167O – 176O F or 75O – 80O C so it draws but the leaves don’t cook.
- Use 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup
- Pour the water over the tea slowly and gently so that they leaves float on the surface.
- Swirl the water gently around the pot, cup, or tea bowl to aerate it.
- Allow the liquid to steep for 1 to 3 minutes. The leaves will fall to the bottom as they absorb water.
- Filter or strain the liquid poured from a teapot.
- Drink the liquid while it is still hot and aromatic.
- One should never add a sweetener or creamer of any kind to the delicate, non-bitter, and expensive tea!
This may sound like a lot of trouble to go to, but the health benefits of Longjing Tea and its wonderful taste and smell make it worthwhile!
Conclusion and Warnings
Although one is unlikely to drink vast quantities of this tea because it’s costly—and because one can have too much of a good thing—it’s advisable to limit one’s intake to (a generous) 1000 ml daily. Too much of any green tea may cause anemia and gastric upset in some people.
Pregnant and menstruating women and individuals suffering from gastric conditions such as ulcers or conditions that cause inflammation are urged not to drink green tea. If one has concerns or reacts badly to the supposed Longjing Tea benefits, speak to a medical practitioner, herbalist, or pharmacist.