I'm not the best person to review Longjing, but it is my favorite type of green tea. Every spring I usually buy a version of it, I just didn't get around to that yet this year. It's really not "spring" here; I live in Bangok, and we just started the rainy season last month, but it's something else; it ends in October.
I've tried some decent versions so I'm not the least qualified judge of this type either. One sent by Peter of Trident Bookstore in Boulder stood out as the best I've had; it was competition grade, exactly as those should be (although it seems I didn't actually review it related to a search not turning it up; odd). You could tell from just the dry tea scent that it was exceptional. I think I had one last year from a local Chinatown shop (Jip Eu), and one the year before from Teasenz.
About a year before this blog started, so maybe around 7 years ago now, Longjing was one of the first better teas I bought in the local Bangkok Chinatown, based on a shop recommendation from a Chinese work contact. I just don't drink much green tea now though; that Longjing once a year, and some Japanese greens that turn up as samples.
I'm not optimizing this related to brewing either. I have measured water temperatures before but more often just mix a little cooler water with that from a filtration system heating function outlet to get it to an approximate range. Brewing precision in general isn't one of my things. I'm not measuring weights of tea, and I change how I prepare it in terms of timing from round to round, based on immediate preference and what I experienced the last round. On to it then.
Often I've included the vendor description prior to reviews lately, but it seems to work to hold off on that until the end, matching my own experience, since I've not checked before trying it.
I normally wouldn't review appearance or dry tea scent but in this case those sort of matter, or at least work as better indicators than often applies to other versions. This is a darker green than a lot of Longjing tends to be (which I actually can't place as meaningful, just being thorough). The scent is in the Longjing range but doesn't cover that bright, intense, vegetal, toasted rice / nutty range to the extent that Trident version did. That's madness, comparing dry tea scents across about three years of time, isn't it? Take that part with a grain of salt; brewed tea character is always the main thing.
that touch of cloudiness comes up in discussion here later
This is actually pretty good tea, and a fair version of what it's supposed to be [which later turned out to be different than I thought, but I think this does work to compare it with a standard and location-specific version]. It's missing some of the characteristic intensity, that punch of a narrow but complex set of flavors and other attributes, but the character that is there is in the right ballpark and very positive. I don't say that unless I mean it; this tea is interesting and positive. It's not exactly the set I expect from this tea type but what is present works really well.
One might wonder, does the tea always need to be made in exactly the same style to be a valid example of the type? Processing choices alone vary how a tea turns out, and year to year changes in the weather do as well. Maybe not, but for some of the most conventional types it seems to work out more that way. The effect they tend to be shooting for is narrow, exactly the known style people seek out year to year.
Sweetness is good, vegetal tone isn't grassy, instead more in a toasted rice / other grain range, with a pleasant but subdued floral highlight that works. It's clean and balanced, with reasonably thick feel (which should develop; this seems thinner for being an initial lighter infusion). The floral range isn't so typical, and the toasted rice should be a little more pronounced. General vegetal tone is in the right range but it's ramped up from this effect in some versions. It's good, just not great, and not exactly that specific type I would expect. Onto checking that next round then.
On the next round a specific version of vegetal range picks up. It's still not the grassiness I like to avoid in green teas, the reason I prefer Longjing, for typically lacking that, but also not exactly that sweet toasted rice / slightly nutty effect. This is in the right general range though, for sure. It has a decent amount of umami effect, which in this balance works well, lending it flavor complexity and fullness, and a good overall balance.
Leave aside expecting this tea to be something in particular and it's a well above average green tea, a version so good it might not be easy to randomly run across. Focusing on that expectation it would be possible for someone to conclude that it falls short, and judge it negatively. Mind you all this is based on my own preconceptions and frame of reference, and others who have focused more on this type over a longer time may well come to a different conclusion. The trace of floral tone is nice in this, it's just not typical, per what I've experienced elsewhere. But what if the gap was in all those other versions, or my interpretation and memory of them, and a trace of floral tone should be there? It seems as well to not overthink it all.
The third infusion is holding up well, continuing to develop. The rich savory aspect is moving a little towards that nut / toasted rice range, closest to typical of the narrow profile type that it has been yet. It's still clean, well balanced, with good sweetness, and entirely positive character.
To some extent people seeking out a "competition grade" higher level experience or a very narrow type in a version doesn't make sense to me, because teas just naturally vary, as agricultural products in general would tend to. I can kind of relate to the pursuit though, even if it doesn't match how I approach tea. In some cases you really can sort out a narrow ideal for some tea versions, not just a limited set of attributes but how those "should" come across, in what intensity, arriving at what overall balance. I'll cite examples, in case that helps.
Rou Gui that tastes exactly like an earthy version of cinnamon is out there (a Wuyi Yancha type), in some better versions balanced perfectly with a medium level of roast that doesn't taste like char, but fills in complexity and range. One might go further and expect other levels of aspects to match an ideal, a certain feel, a degree of aftertaste, and so on. But then one of my favorite tea producers makes an great fruitier style of Rou Gui that's one of my favorite teas (this Wuyi Origin version).
The same approach seems to work well with narrow-region sourced high mountain Taiwanese oolongs; narrow character types can emerge, certain flavors, an unusual intensity, strong mineral base, thick and structured feel, long aftertaste, etc. It seems to work for Longjing as well, expecting and seeking out a narrow character.
I'm trying it the next round brewed a little faster; that can let aspects show through in a different way. The floral tone really picks up. I should be able to describe what it is, which flower, but that's long since been a limitation in these reviews. It's light and sweet; there's that. I could say "orchid" but for all I know the broad range of those flowers comes across differently in different versions, and I don't remember smelling one for a long time. I often dislike quite floral green teas because that range often pairs with a straight-grass flavor aspect and in this it doesn't. This isn't "quite floral" anyway; it's just one aspect, a bit stronger in this round but relatively subdued compared to the rest earlier.
I'm going to skip the rest for review; I have things to do, and the point here was getting a take on this version and comparing it to my expectations and prior experience, which is covered. I liked the tea. As someone who likes Longjing a lot more than every other green tea version for being distinctive and not expressing range typical of other green teas (grass or seaweed) this works for me. It will be interesting to read the product description and see if any of what I've been noticing turns up there, a type description that accounts for it being distinctive related to standard type expectations.
I did brew it a lot more rounds (that works using a Gongfu approach, better for better quality teas in general). It kept transitioning a little but was more positive and consistent than I would have expected. Ten rounds in the character was still somewhat similar, just dropping off in intensity, and usually green teas don't work out like that.
On quality markers and type background
I've talked here about markers, or particular aspects, that tend to work well to identify quality level in different kinds of teas, and that type of perspective seems to apply here. So far I've only made the claim that a certain range of flavor identifies the ideal for this tea type, which is somewhat consistent and and narrowly defined. Framed in that summary form it goes a little further than what I meant to claim but that still sort of works. Typically one would want to consider the feel of a tea and aftertaste effect as crucial points of reference, across most types, although aftertaste does apply more directly to sheng and oolongs. I've got one more point of reference in mind for this type, which I'll get to after one other point.
I also claimed that the color was a bit dark as some versions go. That's hard to completely sort out, since leaf appearance can vary for different reasons. One might think a green tea is darker because it has been allowed to oxidize more, or did so after processing, and there could be something to that, but I can't be certain that other variations come into play.
For this tea type, early harvest Longjing, the amount of fine hair content on the leaves is often a marker for it matching the standard range. I've not mentioned that here, because I really didn't notice anything resembling that in this version. Often a brightness in character and creamy feel seem to go along with that aspect, probably not necessarily directly tied to it, but perhaps not unrelated, in that tea harvested at such a time would have that character and that type of "fuzz." I'll look up a reference to go further with what I'm talking about.
A Tea Vivre vendor's post comes up first in a search on this:
Pekoe is the fuzz on the tea bud, also named as tea hair and often present on the young shoots of tea tree, which is rich in nutrients such as theanine and tea polyphenols. In general, it plays as an important indicator of tea tenderness in many cases...
Pekoe will also affect the taste of tea. It carries less tea polyphenols and caffeine itself, let alone pairing with young leaves, which are relatively fresh but without bitterness, so as to directly affect the taste of tea. For consumers, pekoe can be used as one of the important criterion for the assessment of tea’s quality...
That works for a start, but I was thinking of a differently type of explanation, and I thought the fuzz was called trichomes. Maybe something more scientific, and research oriented:
Scanning electron microscopy was used to investigate the ultrastructure of trichomes on Maofeng, a special Chinese green tea. The trichomes were cylindrical in appearance with a length of 0.6–1 mm, wall thickness of 0.2–0.3 μm and a mid‐point diameter of 9–10 μm. The angles between the trichomes and the leaf under‐surface were below 30° in Maofeng tea though they were 45–75° in fresh green leaf. The trichome wall consisted mainly of fibre and its outer‐surface was unevenly covered with waxy substances and striped. The trichome joint, by which the trichome was attached to the leaf tower epidermis, was expanded and filled with essential oil droplets...
Maybe in the middle for tone would be better. It's strange none of the blogs that tend to cover this sort of background seemed to ever write about it (Tea Geek, and World of Tea, both of which stopped posting years ago, or Tea DB, which focuses on pu'er, so they wouldn't have). Other vendors mention it in marketing content but I've already referenced that type of source. Another blogger friend mentioned her take, in My Thoughts are Like Butterflies:
This specific Long Jing was harvested pre-April 5th, making it a Pre Qing Ming tea, one of the more coveted of harvests [prior to typical Spring rain season, if I remember that part right]. When looking at the leaves I noticed some had wonderful trichome fuzzballs, a sign that yep, these are picked super early and have their young leaf fuzziness, most of the fuzz gets rubbed off during pan firing, but some gets left behind as little fuzzballs...
Take bell peppers, green beans and Lima beans and saute them with some sesame seed oil and a touch of sweet honey and you have the aroma for these leaves. Just at the start of the saute process too since the bell pepper note still has its crispness...
No mention there of all that vegetal range not matching some standard expectation; I guess the character can vary. If this YS version had tasted like green peppers, green beans, and lima beans to me I suppose my comments would have come across as complaining about that.
Yunnan Sourcing description
What is this version, after all that? A sales page description follows, which usually I'd edit down, but the content is interesting, even the parts that aren't required for character description:
"Bao Hong" tea is from Yi Liang county of Yunnan. It's leaf is quite small and it carries a high level of aroma. The leaves are always picked when very small and fresh during a two hour window of time in the early morning of mid-February. The aroma is intense and fresh. It was first grown in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) at the same time a Buddhist Monastery was built on Bao Hong Mountain. The original tea plant was brought by a visiting monk from Fujian. This tea has been growing on Bao Hong Mountain since that time (over 1200 years ago).
Yi Liang county has a very moderate climate with a mean daily temperature of 16.3 degrees celsius, and an average yearly rainfall of about 950 centimeters. The Bao Hong Mountain tea garden is an average of 1550-1630 meters above sea level, where it is often shrouded in mist diffusing the sunlight just enough to create a perfect light balance. Bao Hong mountain is remote area of Yunnan where the tea plants enjoy a natural un-adulterated environment.
The tea itself is full and plump but small. It has a high level of fragrance and the tea soup is thick and awash with the little hairs that grow on the tea leaves.
Comparable in many aspects to a Dragon Well, but unique in its own right.
It didn't seem that thick to me, but then I've been accustomed to drinking a lot of sheng, which varies a lot, but can express different types of thickness in texture. I didn't notice those hairs but otherwise all this works.
Even on that subject of fuzz / trichomes though, the initial rounds looked slightly cloudy, which is usually a bad sign for teas, but in reading around about this type it's said to tie in with the effect of trichomes, so that it's a good sign in this case. I was drinking the tea in a shady spot outside so maybe I just didn't have the right lighting to pick up on the fuzz in the brewed versions. A little is evident on the leaves in the photo and it tends to show up as very fine hair-like particles on the surface of the brewed tea.
For this version being a variation of Longjing / Dragonwell, rather than being presented as the most type-typical and standard region sourced version, it's exactly as one would expect. Even that touch of extra floral tone is very positive in that light, exactly the kind of variation one might expect and would value. Overall the quality of the tea is very positive. Splitting out and pinning down "quality" as some abstract attribute, separated from preference for aspects or expected character for a type, doesn't necessarily work. But it's the kind of thing that you know when you experience, indicated by other aspects, like having a bright, clean, complex, pleasant nature, matching expectations or varying in a positive way, expressing good thickness or aftertaste effect, brewing lots of positive infusions, and so on.