Aug 28, 2010

Discussion on Long Jing (2)

Discussion on Long Jing (1) is here.

(Blogger's notes: some of the contents were inspired by discussions on Steepster between other Long Jing lovers and me. There is so much fun conversing with these people!)

4. Geographic regions
Authentic Long Jing is from Zhejiang province of China. In the market, there are also “Long Jing” products from Yunnan, Sichuan and other provinces. Whether or not tea from other provinces should be called “Long Jing”, I will not discuss about it here because it’s a “should or should not” question. But most people agree on the fact that teas from other provinces, even made with Long Jing processing method, are dramatically different the real Long Jing from Zhejiang province.

So I will focus the discussion on Long Jing from Zhejiang province only.

The central production region of Long Jing is Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province. If you are highly selective about geographic site of your Long Jing, then you would want your tea from one of the tea districts in Hangzhou. According to Chinese national standards (yes there is a set of national standards for various teas, but not all of them are enforced in tea industry), there are three types of Long Jing based on production districts in Hangzhou. All of them are currently called Xi Hu (West Lake) Long Jing or Hangzhou Long Jing.

(1) Shi Feng (Lion Peak) Long Jing. Many people believe this is the best of the three types of Hangzhou Long Jing. Historically Shi Feng Long Jing has been always priced slightly higher than the other two types, although all three types of Hangzhou Long Jing are always priced much higher than Long Jing from out of Hangzhou. The most famous villages for Shi Feng Long Jing are Long Jing Village, Weng Jia Shan and Shi Feng.

(2) Mei Jia Wu Long Jing – From Mei Jia Wu village and surrounding area.

(3)  Other tea producing area near West Lake. (This third type used to be called Xi Hu Long Jing. But currently Xi Hu Long Jing is used as a general name for Long Jing from all Hangzhou production districts. Therefore it will be less confusing not to call the third type Xi Hu Long Jing).

Historically, Long Jing has been cultivated all over Zhejiang province. Overall there are three Long Jing regions in Zhejiang province. They are:
A.   Hangzhou – as above mentioned, it is the most central and most famous Long Jing region.
B.    Qiantang – about 30km (20 miles) from Hangzhou
C.    Yuezhou –about 100km (60 miles) from Hangzhou, of the highest geographic elevation among the three regions. The famous Da Fo (Great Buddha) Long Jing is from this region. 

I hope I didn’t make a mess listing all these production regions. Overall, Long Jing production regions include:

A. Hangzhou (tea from this region, including A1, A2, and A3, is called Hangzhou Long Jing or Xi Hu Long Jing)
A1 – Shi Feng Long Jing
A2 – Mei Jia Wu Long Jing
A3 – Oher Xi Hu Long Jing

B. Qiantang (tea from this region is called Qiantang Long Jing or Zhejiang Long Jing)

C. Yuezhou (tea from this region is called Yuezhou Long Jing or Zhejiang Long Jing. Tea from Xichang county of this region is called Da Fo Long Jing)

All above mentioned regions are under geographic patent protection, which means, tea produced out of above regions cannot be called Hangzhou Long Jing, Xi Hu Long Jing or Zhejiang Long Jing. 

A relevant question is, how much can geographic conditions affect quality of tea products?

In some sense, the question is easy to answer. Hangzhou region produces Long Jing of the best quality – this is not judgment of few people, but conclusion from tea drinkers in the past several hundred years. 

In another sense, this question is very hard to answer. Actually I’ve never seen a person (highly experienced professionals included) who claims he or she can accurately tell a Long Jing’s cultivation area by tasting (or someone claimed so but we wouldn’t know whether to trust the judgment). I believe if we take many samples from various regions, we will find Hangzhou region yields more top quality tea products. But there is always possibility that a very high quality Long Jing from another region is almost as good as Hangzhou Long Jing.

A Mei Jia Wu farmer once did mention to me that he thought Long Jing from a Weng Jia Shan farmer was better than his (although both villages are in Hangzhou region) and he believed it was largely due to the soil of various sites – I think he was very truthful to say that because many farmers won’t have the self-critiquing, out of pride. But he also mentioned that the other farmer’s processing work was better than his, so it was not just the difference of cultivaiton location.

When we compare Hangzhou Long Jing and other Zhejiang Long Jing (“Long Jing” out of Zhejiang province would be totally different), Hangzhou Long Jing usually has the best geographic conditions, the best processing workers, and the most careful work dedicated to it. Geographic factor surely contributes to the differences between Hangzhou and non-Hangzhou Long Jing, but how much the geographic factor contributes to the final result, is hard to say.

Currently Hangzhou Long Jing and the other two regions of Zhejiang Long Jing have been protected by geographic patent. This is good news for consumers, because more accurate information of the tea source must be provided by the producers and sellers. However, I personally believe this is by far not enough. Due to the current cultivation reality of Long Jing, it’s also important to have cultivar information provided for each Long Jing product (for many other teas, cultivar is not a problem). Geographic Patent has been largely advocated by farmers and sellers of original tea production regions, because they directly benefit from it. However, there is not as strong request for specifying cultivar information of Long Jing products. Maybe it’s up to the consumers to demand the information. Just like the harvest date information, few people used to care about it or asked about it. But when more and more consumers want the information, they will eventually push the entire “tea industry”, from producers to retailers, to provide the information. 

Aug 26, 2010

cheers for the tea communities

The summer trip took longer than I had expected. There is so much to catch up with the tea community! In fact, the tea community never fails to surprise me and inspire me.

By reading people's tasting notes, I've learned that a generous tea drinker at Steepster kindly shared tea she purchased from our store with a bunch of other Steepsterites. I feel so grateful to this nice gal whom I haven't exchanged a word yet. Because of her generosity, more people got to know and like our tea. More importantly, she spread love of tea in the community. Some people who had never experienced oolong started to like this tea genre, and some people who had never tried dark oolong fell in love with it.  

While I was away, people had fabulous discussions and contributed great thoughts on this blog. And of course, there are so many nice essays to catch up with from fellow tea drinkers' blogs, including the monthly blog carnival held by Association of Tea Bloggers.

Also during the summer, Leafbox Tea has got its new outlook and, as always, great articles! Rate Tea Net has grown a lot bigger over a summer!

There was a lot going on in my personal life in the past summer. I've spent weeks without a drop of tea. And I've also spent days drinking so many types of teas in a row that we called it tea mardi gras. To my great pleasure, in Beijing, I finally got to meet a Korean Teachatter whom I've admired for a long time! He and his Chinese-Medicine-Doctor-to-be friend, who is also a tea aficionado, took me to fantastic places only "insiders" can get in :-D Both my fellow Teachatter and I realized, with a bit surprise, that it was the first time for both of us to ever meet a tea friend from an online tea community. Yet there are so many great tea drinkers from these online communities, and I think I've got to go out more and meet more of them!

The summer flied away so fast. My goals in the coming autumn are working harder on tea, meeting more tea friends and building up more tea karma by giving away more tea to fellow tea lovers.