As is iconic for Dragon Well, the leaves resemble pressed spears, and are traditionally hand baked
Our organic certified Dragon Well Supreme 2023, was picked in Spring pre Qing Ming from April 6th to 15th 2023, and is produced by Shentang Wen in Yong’an Garden, Chun'an County, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China.
It’s our third batch from Shentang, each year he consistently crafts an excellent dragon well tea with the distinctive warm chestnut-like aromas, creamy texture, and sweet spring green freshness we are looking for. It's this combination that makes this tea so special and one of our favourite spring green teas.
As always, we will share a few tips on how best to infuse and enjoy this tea at home.
This is a tea that is as engaging as it is refreshing and one that many will be looking forward to tasting this year. So, let’s dive in!
Shentang Wen, our Organic Dragon Well Supreme producer
Dragon Well or Longjing is one of, if not the most, celebrated and highly prized teas in China. This deep dive introduces our latest supreme grade of this pan fired green tea.
We’ll be exploring the teas unique single origin, as well as introducing the producer Shentang Wen, whose commitment to quality and authentic pan firing skills are some of the best we’ve ever seen.
Dragon Well is possibly the most celebrated and highly prized tea in China
The vital stats
Name: Dragon Well (known locally as Long Jing) refers to a mythic dragon that lives in a well near to where this tea was first produced.
Orgin: Yong’an garden, Chun'an County, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis ‘Jiukeng'
Style: Pan fried green tea
Terrior: Grown in a certified organic garden which is surrounded by lush green forest in a mountainous area.
Picking Season: Spring April 6th to 15th 2023
Leaf: Iconic pressed spears of hand baked green tea.
Production: Certified Organic
Infusion: Bright, translucent straw-green colour.
New growth of our first flush Organic Dragon Well bushes in Yong'an Garden after winter dormancy.
What kind of tea is Dragon Well?
Even though it’s only produced for around four weeks a year in the early spring, Dragon Well is always top of the best sellers list for total annual tea sales (not even including export) in China. It is important culturally as a gifting tea and loved by many. Hangzhou, the home of this tea, is awash with domestic tourists every spring who come around the time of the Qing Ming festival. The Qing Ming festival is traditionally a time when graves are swept and ancestors are honoured, however in Hangzhou this time has become intrinsically linked with the tea season and so locals use this time to visit tea gardens as a family and choose their tea for the year ahead. This demand for the tea and reverence in which it is held locally means it can command a high price and sells out very quickly. This means that producers are well incentivised to focus on quality and producing the best that they can every season.
Like most Chinese green teas, the best time to produce Dragon Well is in the early spring, when the tea bushes begin to flush again after winter and produce the most prized new buds and leaves, which are full of bright, fresh flavour.
"I learned everything I know about how to make tea from my parents, it took more than 20 years. As someone from Zhejiang, I have a great affection for Dragon Well tea, it varies slightly every year but every spring it is received just like an old friend to me." - Shentang Wen
Machinery more often used for shaping dragon well leaves to ensure quality and consistency
Our Organic Dragon Well Supreme is authentically pan fired which gives the tea its characteristically nutty flavour
The key processing steps for making Dragon Well are what imparts its iconic spear shaped look and sweet, nutty and very fresh flavour. It is precisely the combination of both intense freshness and sweet, slightly roasted nuttiness that makes it so iconic and delicious. After being hand-picked and lightly withered, the tea is pan fried, traditionally in a wok, to lock in the bright green colour, prevent oxidation and develop a distinct sweet chestnut flavour. The tea is rested and repeatedly fired until around 3% moisture remains. It is a highly skilled process. Often nowadays, small machines are used to do this – although of course they still need to be operated with care and precision! The machines can produce very good results if they are meticulously controlled and adjusted to fit the specific conditions of the tea and the weather.
The process means that the leaves are heated by being applied to a dry hot surface – a similar process to when vegetables are dry fried in a griddle pan for example. Other green teas in China will be heated by passing through a hot rolling barrel (a bit like a big cannon), and in Japan the heat is applied using steam. The heating process of green tea has one of the biggest impacts on taste. For Dragon Well, this hot surface press brings out a sweet chestnut flavour that balances with the spring fresh flavours of the new buds.
Why is Dragon Well so prized at origin?
Dragon Well tea has a long history dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China. It is one of the oldest and most renowned types of tea in Chinese culture, with a rich heritage and cultural significance. Dragon Well or Longjing tea was granted the status of Gong Cha, or imperial tea, in the Qing dynasty by the Kangxi Emperor. Its continued association with famous poets, scholars, and emperors throughout history adds to Dragon Wells cultural prestige.
How did we source this batch of tea and who made it?
The authentic region for Dragon Well is split into a few different production areas around Hangzhou.
West Lake is the most well-known and is the closest tea growing area to Hangzhou city, because of its reputation and the prices its name can command, there’s pressure on producers in the immediate West Lake area to deliver maximum yields for the purposes of tourism. Often resulting in the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and batches of tea which lack in distinct flavour, body, or texture. That’s why we use ‘West Lake Dragon Well’ as a reference point for its authentic origin – and we tend to look beyond the immediate area of West Lake to source our tea. We have found that some organic gardens nearby, with their richer soil, biodiverse environments, and purer air can produce teas with much fuller flavours and textures.
Tom inspects some fresh batches of Dragon Well during this years sourcing trip
Close by to West Lake is Qian Tang and Yuezhou which are still traditional and authentic origins within Zhejiang province, but without the premium (and burden) of West Lake itself. Here we met Shentang Wen when we were looking for organic producers back in 2020. He produces in Qian Tang, which is a mountainous area, outside of the city. His tea bushes enjoy a sheltered micro terroir in a valley. The tea he grows is very good and because we’ve now built a close relationship with Mr Wen, he’s willing to fire it just how we like it, which differs slightly from the local preference. We like a relatively light firing of the tea that brings out its nutty, roasted flavours, but retains the spring freshness of the leaf.
"Since the establishment of the Organic Tea Professional Cooperatives in 2007, I have been the director and so lead others in the area in making organic tea by organising regular training for farmers to learn more about the cultivation and maintenance of organic tea plantations. As demand for organic tea is getting strong both locally and internationally, I've seen the farmers I work with are also becoming more passionate about making organic tea." - Shentang Wen
The cultivar of Camellia sinensis that Mr Wen uses to make this tea is called Jiukeng, a traditional cultivar that originates from the Chun’an district of Hangzhou. This tea plant produces leaves which have a rich flavour and thick texture which compliments the nuttiness that comes from the firing.
Mr Wen is a true master when it comes to pan firing Dragon Well tea
What is this batch like to drink ?
The first thing that hits you about this tea is the clean and bright aroma, with a fresh spring grassiness and hints of warmth from the pan frying. The colour of the infusion is transparent pale jade, the kind of light green that could remind you of spring gardens. The first sip is refreshing, with a pleasant grassy sweetness, transforming into a deeper character that is reminiscent of the smell of roasted chestnuts still in their shell. There’s no bitterness to be found at all and the texture is smooth and creamy with a hint of lime sweetness. It’s a very satisfying combination of flavours which will leave you feeling cool and refreshed but with some warming afternotes from the chestnut roast.
Where and when is this tea for?
With a tea of this quality, we suggest choosing a time and place where you can simply sit and get the most enjoyment out of your infusion, rather than rush it down in a hurry. It has plenty of character and it’s satisfying to notice this combination of spring refreshment and warm roast. The cooling nature of this tea makes it pleasant to drink in hotter weather (traditionally it is enjoyed as something to cool you down in a hot summer), perhaps as a gentle pick-me-up on a sunny afternoon.
How to make and get the best tasting infusing?
Single Serve, One Cup Method using 250ml teapot and cup:
Our One Cup Teaiere™ 250ml serve
West Lake is the most well known tea growing area in Hangzhou especially for Dragon Well tea
Although a supreme grade of Dragon Well tea, this is still an easy to make well. We recommend using a glass rather than porcelain teapot for this tea. The glass means the infusion cools at the right speed – and so the tea is ready to drink when it has what we think is the best expression of the flavour and aroma, and as ever with glass you can appreciate the leaves. Pre-heating your teaware is a must, so you get the full fragrance when you add dry leaves.
When you’re ready to infuse, there’s only one thing to remember and that’s 70˚C water. At this temperature you’ll get the right level of delightful sweetness and characterful nuttiness from the leaves. You can achieve this simply by adding a splash of cold water (roughly a 1/5 of the volume) before adding boiling water to the top. If the water’s any hotter, you risk over-extracting the heavier, fried notes of the tea, which will result in more tannins and a slightly rough feeling in your mouth – you get very little bitterness from high quality Dragon Well though.
Remember, after three minutes, pour out the whole infusion into your favourite mug or glass for the complete, perfect cup. Re-infuse the leaves too and add 30 seconds on the next infusion to get maximum flavour the second time round.
This is our go-to method: 4g per 250ml; 70˚C; 3 minutes per infusion.
Organic Dragon Well Supreme served in the local 'grandad-style'
Long Glass (Grandad style):
Method: 3g per 250ml; 80˚C, leave to cool and continue to drink.
Locals in Hangzhou like to drink their tea “Grandad Style”. It’s so simple – all you need to do is add a tablespoon or a large pinch (roughly 3g) of leaf to a tall glass, fill it up with 80˚C water and leave it to cool for a few minutes.
The leaves will plump up with the water and slowly sink to the bottom of the glass. Sipping from the top, you’ll get a light infusion and it’ll be easy to pick out the grassy top notes. As you drink and get closer to the leaves, the infusion will get heavier and more intense. When you have only a few centimetres of water left and the infusion starts to get too strong, just keep topping it up with hot water. It is a wonderfully easy way to explore the flavours of this tea.
Each year Tom tastes and tests fresh samples of Dragon Well before deciding upon one final tea
Who is this tea for?
This tea will appeal to many as it has a very sweet, easy drinking character. Being a supreme tea, it really does deliver on the classic Dragon Well flavours of intense green freshness, some umami, and the sweetness of roasted chestnuts. If you want something that has the refreshment and coolness of spring, but with a slight warming, nutty edge, you’ll love Dragon Well Supreme.
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