This post took me 3 weeks to compose, just because of the continuing tasting and researching of this year's Longjing from Xi Hu.
Lion's Peak or Shi-Feng is where the original 18 Longjing bushes tributed to Qing Emperor Qianlong are from. Lion's Peak is situated next to West-lake (Xi Hu), Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The Mandarin's way to enjoy a true cup of Shi-Feng Longjing is to use the Dreaming of the Tiger Spring, a natural spring that is within walking distance. Quite opposite to Dragon Well's super dense water, on Shi-Feng mountain. (Named after a well that contains relatively dense water, and after rain the lighter rainwater floating on its surface sometimes exhibits a sinuous and twisting boundary with the well water, which is supposed to resemble the movement of a traditional Chinese dragon). Tiger Spring water is light, sweet and soft. I always view green tea as a seasonal craving, a trendy pre-summer luxury. Since my last trip to Shi-Feng years ago, it still tickles my fancy on this special seasonal harvest.
From 2006 on, I've been dedicated a month or two trying to learn more on the grading of Longjing. So far, the experiences were Before Rain Pre-Qing Ming (3 grades), Pre-Ming, and after Qing-Ming Pre-Grain Rain (3 grades). Each year, I do concluded on the same result. The Second harvest after pre-ming or pre-rain is the most bold and savory. Hence the less expensive price tag. Green bean, orchids, dry rice, sweet corn and seaweed.
Due to the harsh Spring weather this year, 2010 harvest has been compromised. More interestingly, a Pre Pre-Ming longjing sample I received from Hangzhou Tea Institute, besides it has much earlier harvesting date, the hair ball from the young buds were very obvious.Traditionally, the fury balls are sifted for a unified appearance. This year, I have seen many vendors advertising the extra fluff as a guaranteed of pre-ming premium harvest. Are these new tactics or marketing scams? The more the vendors add fluff balls or hair, the higher the price they get for that weight.... Some fluff balls I've seen on the web is like bubble tea/tapioca pearls/frog eggs. Very soon, 2011 will have Pre-Pre-Ming, after last snow, first valley mist, White hair Shi-Feng blah blah Longjing, which is covered with fluffs.
Don't get me wrong, I am all for the positive changes and continuing refinement on traditional Art/Craftsmanship. But if there is no revolution or improvement to the tradition, then it is a downgrade. I hope this new fluff ball Longjing is not another 'Pop-up' for the Longjing tradition, similar to the low grade, top priced, high publicity puerh bubble a couple years ago. Prediction and frustration aside, here is a testing from a March, pre-rain, pre-Ming Shi-Feng this year.
The appearance is not the most handsome which I'd expect from a top grade LongJing. They are clearly not individually re-selected by hand.
Dry leaves aroma of dry seaweed, clean morning forest air, dry jasmine rice, corn and tiny white orchid (Mei Lan). All the right flavor are presented.
Heat leaves: Lemon, rice, vanilla, chocolate, and pineapple. Brewing parameter: 1/3 in 100ml gaiwan. 120F water. 1st/10sec. 2nd/15sec. 3rd/10sec. 4th/30sec. 5th/20sec. with shrimp eye boil. 6th/30sec. 7th/60sec. 8th/2mins....
Liquor: Steamed green bean, light roasted corn, veggie, seaweed, roast duck, sweet pineapple, loads of bitter chocolate.
Notes: The liquor is not as delicate and soft as the promising aroma with big nose, and full fragrant upfront but not delivering in the taste. Perhaps the result of a too-early harvest, underdeveloped leaves. Too many tiny buds and fluff balls causing the bitter, veggie, over-brewed gyokuro quality, specially rough on the tongue at the later steeps. Although there are tons of umami, which might not be a good character after all. Will wait and hope for our 2nd harvest pre-grain rain shipment next week and compare.