Longjing Tea

The name “Longjing” literally means “Dragon Well” and is unsurprisingly named after the Dragon Well in Longjing Village, which rests just outside of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. According to legend, this well was used as a tunnel by a local dragon to move freely between the lakes of Hangzhou and the East China Sea. Nowadays Longjing is heralded as one of the finest teas in China and is renowned for its “four wonders”: its emerald green colour, its strong and sumptuous aroma, its subtly sweet flavour, and the pleasing appearance of its delicate, flat leaves. The best quality Longjing comes from the West Lake area, although to be classified as “authentic” it need only come from Zhejiang province.

The 18 Tea Bushes

The tradition of growing Longjing dates back over 1,200 years, but it wasn’t popularised until the Song Dynasty (960-1279). During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), it was granted the status of “Gong Cha” or imperial tea by the Kangxi Emperor, meaning it was an acceptable type of tea to be given as tribute to the imperial court. One legend states that the Kangxi Emperor’s grandson, the Qianlong Emperor, was visiting Hu Gong Temple near West Lake when he was presented with a cup of Longjing tea. He was so impressed that he conferred imperial status upon the 18 tea bushes that grew near the temple. These bushes are still alive today and the tea they produce commands a higher price per gram than the equivalent weight in gold!

Another legend states that, on a similar such visit, the Qianlong Emperor was watching some ladies pick the tea and became enamoured by the effortlessness and dexterity of their movements. He decided to try picking the tea for himself, but he’d not long started when he received a message saying that his mother, the Empress Dowager Chongqing, was ill. Without thinking, he shoved the tea leaves into his sleeves and immediately began his return journey to Beijing. When he arrived at the imperial palace, he went to visit his mother and she quickly noticed the enticing aroma of the tea. He brewed it for her and she praised it for its fine taste, claiming that its health benefits helped her overcome her illness. Nowadays the characteristic flattened shape of the leaves is meant to mimic the appearance of those that travelled in the Qianlong Emperor’s sleeves.

In order to make Longjing tea, first the leaves are carefully hand-picked and then left to wither, either in a warm room or outside, for between 6 to 12 hours. This is to reduce some of the moisture content but, unlike black and oolong teas, it should not be allowed to go through the natural oxidation process. The tea is then separated and roasted based on its quality, as high grade tea should be roasted at a different temperature to low grade tea. The leaves are pan-fried in a large, red-hot wok for about 15 minutes before being allowed to cool. 

This is perhaps the most significant and difficult part of the process, as it is all done by hand and requires the skill of a master tea roaster. They shift and press the leaves against the wok with their bare hands, so that they can feel the gradual change of the leaves. We’re sure you’ll agree that being a tea roaster is not everyone’s cup of tea! After the leaves have been allowed to cool, they are fried a second time to perfect their flat, spear-like shape. If the tea roaster puts too much pressure on them then they will become too dark in colour, but not enough pressure and they will be the wrong shape. Let’s just say there’s a lot of pressure on the tea roaster to get it right! 

In terms of quality, it can be separated into six grades: superior, and then 1 to 5. How highly a tea is graded depends on where it is from and when it was picked. The best quality Longjing tea is picked right before the Qingming Festival, which takes place on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (usually April 4th or 5th), and is thus referred to as Mingqian or “Pre-Qingming” Longjing. Any tea picked before the Grain Rain Season, beginning from April 19th to 21st each year, is still considered good quality and is called Yuqian or “Pre-Rain” Longjing, but tea picked after this season is widely regarded as worthless. 

Xihu or “West Lake” Longjing is perhaps the most famous variety and is grown in a designated area of just 168 square kilometres (65 sq. mi). Originally it was separated into four sub-regions: Lion (Shi), Dragon (Long), Cloud (Yun), and Tiger (Hu). Nowadays there is less distinction between the teas from these sub-regions, so any tea from the West Lake region that is not from Lion Peak or Meijiawu Village is referred to as Xihu Longjing. Tea that is picked from the bushes grown on Shi Feng or “Lion Peak” is called Shi Feng Longjing and supposedly has a fresh taste, a sharp, long-lasting fragrance, and a far more yellowish colour than other varieties of Longjing. 

Meijiawu Longjing comes exclusively from Meijiawu Village and is renowned for its deeply jade green colour. Qiantang Longjing refers to any type of Longjing tea that comes from outside of the Xihu district and is generally regarded as inferior in quality, meaning it is markedly cheaper. On top of these four broad designations, there are potentially as many varieties of Longjing as there are tea leaves in a cup!

Bear in mind, high quality Longjing can be very expensive so, if you do decide to indulge, be sure to prepare it properly! Ideally it should be infused with water that has been heated to between 75°C and 80°C (167-176°F) and should be left to steep for approximately 3 to 4 minutes, until the water has turned a slight yellowy green colour. High quality tea will produce this yellowish colour, while low quality tea tends to be more bluish or deep green in hue. Local legend states that the best Longjing is made using water from the Running Tiger Spring just outside of Hangzhou, as the water is deliciously pure and enhances the subtle flavours of the tea perfectly. 

Pu’er Tea

Pu'er tea


Generally speaking, Pu’er Tea is a generic term that refers to tea in bulk or in its compressed form. This tea is made from the sun-greened raw tea that is grown in the six well-known tea-growing mountains near the Lancang River basin and that is then withered, rolled and dyed.

Pu'er tea 01

The first written record of Pu’er Tea appeared during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), so the history of Pu’er Tea can be traced back at least 1,700 years.

What makes Pu’er Tea different from other types of tea, in terms of its unique taste, is the post-fermentation process. In the past, plain tea was initially sun-greened to make the primary tea, and then the primary tea was dried, steamed and moulded into different shapes of compressed tea. Usually this compressed tea had a high moisture content. Before these teacakes were delivered to the distribution centre, water had to be sprinkled onto the surface of the teacakes in order to prevent them from being crushed. Thus the preliminary cold fermentation process was completed whilst the tea was on the road. At the distribution centre, the finest quality tea was selected and then sent to Tibet. This long journey took several months and, whilst the tea was on the road once again, it completed the secondary slow cold fermentation process.

Pu'er tea02

Nowadays, people have found a much faster way to perform these fermentation processes. The sun-greened primary tea is piled up, sprinkled with water and covered with linen for 24 hours. The fermentation process is aided by microorganisms that thrive in the hot and humid environment. Thanks to this process, the texture of the tea becomes milder, and the colour turns from green to yellow, to brownish red, and sometimes even to a dark red.

Pu’er tea can be made via the pilled fermentation process, called the “Cooked Tea” process, or it can be made following the natural fermentation process, called the “Raw Tea” process. The natural fermentation process usually takes at least 5 to 8 years but the aroma of the tea produced is stronger and the texture is milder than tea made by the pilled fermentation process.

Huangshan Maofeng

At 700 to 800 metres above sea level, the area around and on Huangshan Mountain, is the perfect place and main area of production for the superfine Huangshan Maofeng tea leaves. Huangshan Maofeng is produced in several different places on the mountain, including Peach Blossom Peak, Purple Cloud Peak, Cloud Valley Monastery, Pine Valley Temple and Hanging Bridge Temple. In fact, Huangshan Maofeng is produced throughout the whole Huizhou District. This region boasts a temperate climate and receives plenty of rainfall. The annual average temperature is between 15 to 16°C, and the average amount of precipitation is between 1,800 to 2,000 millimetres. The soil is deeply layered and made up of the yellow earth typically found in mountainous regions. This type of soil is loose in texture and has good water permeability. It contains an abundance of organic matter and phosphorus potassium, and it has an acidity level of between ph 4.5 and 5.5 which makes it suitable for the growth of tea trees.

Huangshan Maofeng was created by the Xie Yuantai Teahouse in the Guangxu Period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After 1875, in order to meet the market demands, each year, during the Qingming period (a time which falls around the 5th of April and is one of the 24 solar terms according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar), pickers would climb high mountains in Tangkou, Chongchuan and some other places in the Huangshan region in order to collect fat leaves and bud points, which were then fried and baked. They named the kind of tea made from this practice Huangshan Maofeng.

Huangshan Maofeng must be picked carefully. The picking standard for top grade Maofeng is to pick one bud and one leaf just before it’s about to unfold Top grade Maofeng is picked during the Qingming period. Grades 1 to 3 are processed during the Grain Rain period (one of the 24 solar terms according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, roughly falling around the 20th of April). After the fresh leaves are picked, they will be sorted to ensure that all of the leaves are of a high quality and that all of the buds are of a similar size. Then the fresh leaves will be separated by their differing degrees of tenderness and spread to dry out. In order to guarantee the quality and to keep the freshness of the tea, it is recommended that the tea leaves are picked in the morning and processed in the afternoon, or picked in the afternoon and processed at night. The manufacture of Huangshan Maofeng is divided into three procedures – heating, rubbing and twisting, and curing.

huangshan maofeng tea

The shape of top grade Huangshan Maofeng is like a sparrow’s tongue and has thick leaves with white fluff on them. It is yellowish green, nearing ivory white, in colour and golden pieces grow below the tea leaves. It smells fragrant and tastes mellow and luscious. When brewing Huangshan Maofeng, you will notice that the tea water is limpid in colour. Thanks to the distinctive characteristics of the “golden pieces” and the “ivory” coloured leaves found in Huangshan Maofeng, the taste of top grade Huangshan Maofeng is sharply distinguishable from the taste of other varieties of Maofeng.

Try it on the tour: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region