One thing I always look forward to in springtime every year is enjoying the Dragon-Well tea from HangZhou. Dragon-Well is a relatively new member in the Chinese most famous ten teas group, and it fully lives up to its expectation. Dragon-Well was already famous in Tang dynasty (618-907) but under a different name. Monks, among others, planted this tea in monasteries in the Ling-Yin and Tian-Zhu areas. During Song dynasty (960-1279), three tribute teas were from HangZhou area, and in HangZhou as the capital city, tea was widely appreciated by all classes. Around this time, some monks started to plant “Bai-Yun” tea, one of the tribute teas, in the old Dragon-Well temple at the foothill of the “Shi-Feng” mountain. From that time on Dragon-well Tea became an official name for teas from that area. Dragon-Well tea reached its pinnacle in Qing dynasty (1616-1911) as the Emperor Qian-Long (ruling period: 1735 – 1796) came to HangZhou four times to visit the tea plantations. Emperor Qian-Long had reserved the eighteen oldest tea plants, which had been planted in front of the “Hu-Gong” temple, to provide tribute tea for him. He also had written many poems to show his appreciation of the Dragon-Well tea, the best spring water, and the beautiful scenery in HangZhou area.
The best Dragon-Well is harvested before Qing-Ming festival on April 5 each year. Forty thousand hand-plucked young buds can only produce 500 grams of top quality Dragon-Well tea. Dragon-Well, a tea often served at the national banquet in China, has four best-in-class qualities: the beautiful shape of the leaf, the jade color of the tea liquor, a subtle vegetative aroma, and its unique light sweet fragrant flavor.
Dragon-Well is a very delicate green tea. If you don’t protect it by sealing it carefully and storing it in a proper place after opening the tea bag, the aroma weakens quickly. The ideal conditions for storing Dragon-Well are in a dark place with less than 50 percent humidity, and where the temperature is between 5 – 7 degrees Celsius. Also the oxygen in the tea container should be less than one tenth of one percent and the water in the tea itself less than seven percent.
I like to use guy-wan to brew my favorite Dragon-Well tea. But I have also noticed that the locals in HangZhou like to toss the loose tea leaves into a glass or a big mug then pour in hot water. That is certainly a good way to enjoy Dragon-Well’s best-in-class qualities. If you get a chance to drink Dragon-Well in a tea house by the beautiful West Lake in HangZhou, you will understand why Emperor Qian-Long visited HangZhou four times.