Friday, May 12, 2017

Teasenz Pre-Qing Ming Meijiawu (West Lake) Longjing

It's that time of the year again for spring teas.  I've tried some Darjeeling first flush, a very nice experience, but for me Longjing (also called Dragonwell) is the main spring tea I go out of my way to experience.  This one is from Teasenz.  It's sold as first flush Longjing, or as a pre-Quing Ming version, meaning an early spring tea, from the traditional source area, West Lake, or more specifically from the village of Meijiawu.

weather on a recent outing:  hot

Drinking teas seasonally makes perfect sense, enjoying fresh green teas in the spring, switching to mostly more oxidized teas in winter, maybe along with some masala chai, and associating some others with fall.  I just mostly don't.  I live in Bangkok and it's either really hot here or not quite as hot and raining.  The cool season is still hot.  I'm all over the map related to what I drink, and when, both tied to inclination and what vendors happen to send as samples for review.  I was buying a compressed Shai Hong (Dian Hong) from Teasenz anyway so I ordered their fresh Longjing as well, waiting an extra week or two until the product was ready.

Some bloggers tend not to review the same teas over and over, depending on their writing theme, and Longjing is a type that would tend to repeat in style.  I don't have rules or conventions for writing, beyond an inclination to violate assumed rules, so if it worked out to review a number of similar fresh Longjing then I would.  But it won't.  Then again I tried a really nice version sent by an online friend last year and couldn't believe I didn't review that, so maybe I'm just inconsistent.  Onto review then.

The dry tea smell is nice, fresh and sweet, with a bit of a nutty element (or toasted rice, all along the same line, that one characteristic aspect or range).  There is a touch more vegetal tone than I expected in the scent, a bit of extra grass swapped out for nuts, more or less, but dry tea scent doesn't matter as much as final result anyway.

The brewed tea taste is definitely in the right range.  There is a fullness and richness to the tea that extends the experience well beyond taste, and the taste is also nice.  Describing the one characteristic taste or range shouldn't be so difficult, and it is at the center of the experience, but it's hard to completely pin down.  It's a taste like nuts, or toasted rice, not completely removed from fresh cut green hay, or maybe it spans all that range, but somehow comes across as more integrated than three separate tastes.

I think the character of this version is just a little towards the fresh cut green hay from the nuts / toasted rice part.  That could mean more to someone with more depth of background with Longjing; I can only describe how it works out, or how it relates to what I've experienced, not the type-optimum, or processing inputs that led to aspects.

The tea has a very full feel related to how green teas typically come across, more like an oolong, a creamy feeling, although not exactly the same in effect as those.  It's not buttery, it's creamy.  The aftertaste extends quite a bit related to other green teas too.

It's probably not the kind of tea that gives completely different effects related to brewing variation but there is room for optimizing the balance of the elements.  There is an assumption that comes across in most tea writing--across types--that there is typically one standard, optimum way to brew every tea, and to me that probably holds up for this tea a lot better than for some other types.  But there still seems to be room for slight variation per preference.  Really one could brew this tea gongfu style, if they wanted to, and I did try that the second time, even though it works well brewed Western style.  Or I suppose it could be cold brewed, or prepared grandpa style, but this tea is a bit nice for using those approaches.

All that said, I went with a relatively short infusion the time next time to see how that shifted things.  The tea thins, of course, with the fullness and richness dropping back, but the flavor stays mostly where it was.  It wasn't astringent enough one would describe it as astringent but that range, the feel, was most of what changed.  Slightly less flavor intensity is not quite as positive, so brewing it on the light side but strong enough to retain flavor and feel fullness seems right.  Or just going with a completely standard set of parameters would work.

There is room for more description, more of the flavors list approach.  I'd be talking about Longjing in general as much as about this tea, or both really, so to be completely descriptive it would work better to describe the typical range in detail, or possibly that and the ideal, and where this stands in that range.  But that would be even wordier than this already is.  And I mostly just know when Longjing actually tastes like good Longjing, and then only in general terms, not on the level of people that have been experimenting with ever higher levels of sourcing options for this particular tea version for many years.

brewing in a gaiwan, the second time

As flavors list goes, so far:  nutty (closest to fresh roasted cashew, but not exactly that), toasted rice, fresh cut hay--the green version, quite sweet.  That sweetness isn't so far from the taste of very fresh green peas, which aren't particularly vegetal in nature.  Of course I don't mean canned peas or frozen peas; there is a part of the effect you only get in a very fresh version, something more or less just off the plant, picked only when ripe.  They're sweet in a particular way.

The "hay" aspect isn't completely separate from grass, the effect is just pretty far from what I would mean if I described a tea as grassy.  Mineral picks up just a little a few infusions in, as an underlying tone, with a little of the brightness fading, but the sweetness stays mostly unchanged and the fullness mostly continues through.

I tried the tea a second time made in a gaiwan, using a longer infusion version of Gongfu style brewing.  I liked it more, although I liked it just fine the first time.  It's hard to place that; it could've related to not getting Western brewing just right, or maybe more about moving away from Western brewing approach for so long now that I'm not used to it, and not typically being rigorous about using those standard Western style brewing parameters anyway.

The tea retains a lot of the brightness, freshness, and sweetness brewed lightly, using relatively short infusion times (around 20 to 30 seconds, using a typical proportion of tea to water for the approach).  It really seemed a matter of preference, that someone else might like the tea prepared stronger, where a normal Western brewing approach typically lands, and without significant astringency issues to work around it's not as if it doesn't work well stronger too.

It would seem to make perfect sense to me to prepare the tea more than one way and see how that varied it.  Since I bought this tea--it's not just a provided sample--I'll keep experimenting with it, although that definitely relates more to a preference to mess around than a potential to improve results.

Ranking the tea in the Longjing spectrum

One last thing:  how well did I like it, how would I judge the grade?  I think this tea gives up little or nothing related to other better Longjing versions I've tried related to feel, aftertaste, and sweetness; it's obviously very good tea.  The related fullness, creaminess, freshness, and brightness are all where they should be.  I don't remember ever noticing this much fuzz / down in a tea, which is a good thing, a sign of early leaves, per my understanding (this is already long of I'd go into more on that, but you can Google it).

Related to taste range it's a good version of a quality tea, I'm just less certain that it stands out as matching the best version I've ever tried, related to my own preferences.  That one really nice Longjing I tried last year showed off plenty of that one characteristic flavor element as soon as you opened the package, with the scent filling the room, even more fresh and intense in the brewed tea.  I think the aspect range for this tea wasn't far off that one's but it struck a different balance related to proportion of fresh cut hay element versus nuttiness / toasted rice.  It's splitting hairs, but then that's how I see a full description of a fresh Longjing working out, either you split the hairs, consider grade and also bring in subjective preference, or a review is just a flavor-list half measure.

Do I remember that tea right, I wonder; that was awhile back.  If I'd been drinking lower end green teas prior to trying that maybe the shift in level made it stand out as more exceptional than it really was.  Or maybe its status grew in my mind over time.  Or maybe I'm just not drinking green teas much lately, off that page for preference, and I'm rating it lower for an underlying preference shift away from the general green tea type.  In any case I'm just passing on my best guess, which is really all any tea reviewer ever does, although write-ups tend to get presented as relatively objective takes.

I should note that the source for that other tea wasn't an online vendor.  That friend goes out of his way to review and source competition grade teas from as direct sources as possible, and has for years, in a professional capacity.  If someone walked into a random shop or cafe to buy Longjing it almost certainly wouldn't be on that level, true here in Bangkok as well, or probably as good as this tea, for that matter.  I probably should try to verify that though; I've been meaning to go to Chinatown anyway, so I might as well try another version from there.

There was just a discussion thread about "The best green tea in the world" on the Tea Chat forum and someone mentioned a preference to buy teas at less than $1 a gram, which is a relevant part of that general grade issue.  Longjing is a high-profile and highly demanded type of tea, particularly for good quality, region-specific, early harvest versions.  A tea being sold at $1 a gram implies something about quality level, as does costing substantially more or less.  At a guess this tea I'm reviewing is quite good for the cost range it's in, although that seems a bit speculative on my part, given that I'm not trying out lots of sources of Longjing, I just drink it from different sources every year.

I'm also more or less penalizing the tea in description and evaluation for being a green tea, which is strange, since that's exactly what it's supposed to be.  To be clear I love Longjing especially for being distinct from that typical green tea character range, for not being grassy or vegetal, for tasting fresh but mostly in the range of nuts and toasted rice.  It would be completely possible for someone else to switch that around, and prefer this tea over any other they've ever tried precisely for striking the aspects balance it does.  I'm not even sure that actually relates to quality, that there could be plenty of stylistic difference beyond that one concern, just within a narrow range in this case.  I glanced around at some references about Longjing in writing this and one said a touch of vegetal nature of a specific kind identified the most sought types from the right region, and maybe that's exactly what I was tasting.

All in all it's a great tea, very fresh and positive, expressing a wonderful range of positive attributes.  It doesn't feel much like Spring here, being half-way through our Thai hot season, but it feels more like it for drinking this tea.

Testing a video addition, a Pikachu attack enactment, nothing to do with tea


  1. Awesome post as always John! A much needed break from my revision. I tend to go through periods of liking green teas, interspersed with period of not being too keen on them. Either way, it's usually Long Jing that tempts me back into green teas. But yes I agree, just like Anji Bai Cha the prestige of Longjing has arguably made it difficult to find a high quality Dragonwell at a reasonable price.


    1. Thanks much, I really do appreciate the feedback. You've hit on part of the issue I tried to shed light on, and describe my own limitations in relation to, that after a lot of experience someone has a good feel for specific quality level and range of characteristics in better versions. That would go along with experience with better sourcing options. I feel like I'm just describing the basic type and this one version instead, which explains all the framing discussion in this post.