"Xi Hu Long Jing" or "West Lake Longjing Tea" (from China Tea Book)

West Lake Longjing Tea is produced in the West Lake District of Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province. It is a renowned historical tea, dating back to the late Ming and early Qing dynasties.

The West Lake District of Hangzhou City spans from 30°04' to 30°20' north latitude and from 119°59' to 120°09' east longitude. Located in the transitional zone between the hilly mountainous areas of western Zhejiang and the Hangzhou-Jiaxing-Huzhou Plain, it borders the West Lake to the east and the Qiantang River to the south. The area enjoys a subtropical monsoon climate, characterized by warm, moist, and foggy weather. The average annual temperature is 16.2°C, with average temperatures of 3.9°C in January and 28.5°C in July. The frost-free period lasts for approximately 250 days per year. The annual sunshine duration is 1904.6 hours, with a sunshine rate of 43%. The average annual precipitation is 1398.9 millimeters, with more than 80% falling between March and October, and an average relative humidity of over 80%. The main types of soil in tea gardens include yellow clay soil, white sandy soil, yellow loam soil, and reddish-brown loam soil. Yellow clay soil accounts for about 60% of the total, with a soil thickness of about 40 to 100 centimeters, good permeability, and an organic matter content of 0.14% to 1.86%, total nitrogen content of 0.053% to 0.99%, and total phosphorus content of 0.038% to 0.12%. White sandy soil accounts for 20% of the total. The pH value ranges from 4.6 to 5.0.

The tea production history in the West Lake area dates back to ancient times. According to "The Classic of Tea" by Lu Yu, "The tea of Qiantang (West Lake) grows in Tianzhu (present-day Hangzhou) and Lingyin Temple." It is also said that when the poet Su Shi (Su Dongpo) served as an official in Hangzhou, he investigated the history of tea cultivation in the West Lake area and believed that the earliest tea trees in West Lake were in the area of Lingyin and Tianzhu Xianglin Cave. These trees were brought from Mount Tiantai when the Southern Dynasty poet Xie Lingyun translated Buddhist scriptures in the area. The long history of Longjing tea production is widely recognized, but the exact time when it evolved into its current flat shape is still uncertain. Speculation based on the evolution of tea processing techniques in China suggests that the large-scale production of loose-leaf tea began in the Ming Dynasty, and it was unlikely to produce flat-shaped tea more complex and delicate than pan-fired green tea during the Song and Yuan dynasties. At the end of the Ming Dynasty, Peng Sunyi's poem "Picking Tea Song" reads: "Longjing new tea is highly valued, the leaves stand out in the cup, do not lightly try for a guest, the hard work of carrying the tiger run under the spring." Although the poem does not directly describe the shape of the tea, the phrase "the leaves stand out in the cup" suggests that it is a flat-shaped tea. It can be inferred that the formation period of Longjing flat-shaped tea was about 350 years ago (around 1644). Some tea experts speculate that today's Longjing tea may have evolved from Dafang tea. The basic frying methods of Dafang tea and Longjing tea are similar, but they use different oils during the frying process to make the frying pan smooth. Dafang tea uses vegetable oil, while Longjing tea uses cypress oil. In addition to its excellent natural quality, Longjing tea is also famous for the praise of famous people and experts. During the Ming Dynasty, Huang Yifei and Xu Xiao successively included Longjing tea in the national famous tea and tribute tea records. By the Qing Dynasty, Longjing tea had become one of the top teas in the country. Emperor Qianlong went on six southern tours and visited Tianzhu, Yunqi, Longjing, and other areas of the West Lake Longjing tea region four times to observe the picking and processing of tea leaves and compose tea poems. The first time he visited Tianzhu, he wrote "Observing Tea Picking and Composing Songs", with the opening lines "West Lake Longjing is old and famous, just arrived to observe its methods." Since the Qing Dynasty, tea merchants have divided the West Lake Longjing tea region into four characters: Lion, Dragon, Cloud, and Tiger. After 1949, the original four-character Longjing tea was merged into three categories: "Shifeng Longjing", "Meiwu Longjing", and "West Lake Longjing". The main varieties planted in the West Lake Longjing tea production area include Longjing group varieties, Longjing 43, Longjing long leaves, etc. The grading standards for fresh leaves of West Lake Longjing tea are: special grade is one bud and one leaf or one bud and one or two leaves just opened, and the bud is longer than the leaf, with a length of 2 to 2.8 centimeters; grades 1 to 2 are one bud and two to three leaves (first opened leaves), and the length of the bud and leaf is basically the same, with a length of 2.5 to 3.5 centimeters; grades 3 to 4 are one bud and two to three leaves (three leaves first opened), the leaf is longer than the bud, with a length of 3 to 3.9 centimeters; grades 5 to 6 are one bud and two to three leaves (some tender leaves are clamped), with a length of 3.9 to 5 centimeters.

Different grades of fresh tea leaves are spread out and fried separately. The initial processing of Longjing tea includes spreading, pan-frying (killing green), rehydration, secondary screening, shining, secondary screening of dried tea, straightening, piling, storage, and dust collection, totaling 10 procedures, but the most basic are four steps: spreading and drying in the pan.

When collecting fresh leaves, they should be spread thinly indoors. The spreading area should be cool, clean, and well-ventilated, with a thickness of about 3 centimeters. For medium to lower-grade raw materials, the thickness can be slightly thicker. The spreading time is 6 to 12 hours, and the fresh leaves should be reduced by 15% to 20% in weight and reach a moisture content of about 70% before further processing. Longjing tea is fried in a specially made smooth iron pan with bare hands. The frying techniques include shaking, flipping, spreading, pressing, tossing, grabbing, pushing, covering, pressing, and grinding, known as the "Ten Techniques". During frying, the techniques are continuously varied based on the size of the fresh leaves, their maturity, and the forming degree of the tea pieces in the pan, which requires skill and finesse. Only those who have mastered the proficient techniques can fry Longjing tea with excellent color, aroma, flavor, and shape. The green pan process is the process of killing green and initial shaping.

For the special and high-grade Longjing tea, when the pan temperature reaches 90°C to 100°C, a special oil is applied to the pan surface. Then, 100 grams of spread leaves are added, and shaking and flipping are mainly used to evenly heat and disperse moisture. After repeated processes, flipping, pressing, and other techniques are used for initial shaping. Gradually increasing pressure straightens the tea leaves into strips and presses them flat. When the tea is about 70% dry, it is removed from the pan, which takes about 12 to 15 minutes. After removing the green pan leaves, they are thinly spread for rehydration, and it takes about 40 to 60 minutes for cooling and rehydration. After spreading, they are screened separately, with the bottom and surface tea being processed in shining pans respectively. The purpose of the shining pan is to further shape and dry the tea. Usually, three green pan leaves are combined into one shining batch, with about 150 grams of tea body, and fried at a temperature of 60°C to 70°C for 20 to 25 minutes, following a low-medium-low temperature control process. Initially, straightening is emphasized, with more tea leaves and less flipping to facilitate the release of steam. Then, gradually transition to flipping, pressing, spreading, covering, and grinding techniques, appropriately increasing the force. The key is to keep the hands close to the tea and the tea close to the pan. When the tea leaves shed their fuzz, become flat and smooth, emit a fragrant aroma, and break when folded, with a moisture content of 5% to 6%, they are ready to be removed from the pan. After cooling and spreading, remove the yellow pieces and sift out the tea fines to obtain the finished product.

The refined processing of West Lake Longjing tea includes sieving, air sorting, and other processes to tidy up the rough tea, improve its appearance, and stabilize its internal quality to meet the product standards of commercial tea.

West Lake Longjing tea is divided into six grades: special grade, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade. Its quality characteristics include: flat and smooth appearance, straight and erect, green and moist, uniform, long-lasting fragrance, fresh and mellow taste, tender and bright green soup color, and tender and bright green leaves at the bottom. High-grade Longjing tea is renowned for its "green color, rich aroma, mellow taste, and beautiful shape," earning it the reputation of being one of the four excellent teas.

(Source: China Tea Book. Author: Jiang Yongwen)

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