It is difficult to discuss the differences between each kind of tea without using the term “processing,” but unfortunately, this word conjures to mind a host of negative associations. Usually when we think about “processing,” we think about “processed foods,” which causes us in turn to think of other undesirable adjectives, such as “unnatural,” “synthetic,” “conventional,” and so forth. This couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of tea.
When we discuss tea processing, what we really are referring to is tea crafting, which includes every aspect of the labor process. To this end, we should strive to think of tea processing along the same lines of craft brewing, hand-crafting, and other analogous approaches to creating a high-quality, finished product that is the result of much care and experiment.
To shine some light on what this looks like in the case of tea, The Week published an excellent exposé entitled, “The wizards of Chinese tea,” by Kelly Gonsalves in which she discusses how one of the most famous Chinese teas in the world, Long Jing Dragonwell green tea, is produced. The article itself is an eye-opening treat to read and includes beautiful photographs of Long Jing production, but we’ll summarize some of the important points.
Some of the best Long Jing green tea comes from the home of its true origin in West Lake, Huangzhou. The closer the tea hails from this region, the more expensive it tends to get. Gonsalves notes that it can range in price from $15 to more than $100 per ounce. Other than the rich history, much of this price is largely due to the fact that the most in-demand variants of this tea are still very much labor intensive, beginning with a hand-picking that starts before dawn in the early spring season.
As Gonsalves explains in her article, who picks the tea is just as important as the name of the tea itself. When a harvester is plucking leaves, they have to maintain very strict standards in order to produce the best Dragonwell, selecting not only the ideal one bud and one leaf, but they also have to use a special technique to limit the oxidation of the leaves after they have been picked. For this reason, she says, “A seasoned tea connoisseur can taste the difference between leaves harvested by experienced professionals and those picked by an amateur or careless.”
Another reason to select those teas that have been hand-processed is that the additional element of a human eye allows the tea master to more carefully control the entire process. The tea master not only aims for producing the signature, flat spear shape of the leaves through the hand rolling and drying stages, but a trained expert “can better identify precisely which leaves are done roasting and remove them one by one.” While this proves far more time-consuming than taking an automated approach, Gonsalves says that “these machines can often leave portions of the batch burnt.”
The virtues of hand-processing discussed in The Week’s article as well as the drawbacks of automation are the same considerations that motivate our decisions when sourcing teas. At MeiMei Fine Teas, we care very much for the finished tea product, which is why we directly source our teas. This allows us to ensure that we are selecting the highest quality possible so that you can taste what an expertly hand-crafted Dragonwell green tea tastes like.
We now currently offer two new Dragonwell green teas, both of which are hand-crafted and both of which are worth trying. For those seeking a daily Dragonwell that they can enjoy at any time, we have our early harvest Da Fo Long Jing. While it is harvested just outside of the West Lake area, it is also far less expensive while remaining very satisfying in its flavor profile. For those, however, looking for a traditional, true West Lake Dragonwell, our Xi Hu Long Jing was sourced precisely for you!
We like to think that the tea masters that produce these extraordinary teas are indeed wizards, for the teas really do seem magical in their flavors and aromas. Understanding the amount of effort that goes into producing these teas greatly enhances our appreciation of these amazing teas.