Dragon Well - Lion Peak
It was by happenchance that we found the Wangs. Hopping off a bus in Hangzhou, we asked for directions to visit Longjing farms. As luck would have it, the young lady we asked was a resident of Longjing Village and recommended us to the Wangs. We would not have otherwise found them as their house is tucked away in one corner of the village, dwarfed by the shopfronts of larger operators.
The Wangs, a couple in their 80s were surprised and delighted to have visitors. Usually outsiders only know of the large operators who may align themselves with tour groups and other promotional activities. Sitting inside their humble home, they recounted their backstory.
The Wangs already in their 80s, are third generation growers. During the Communist revolution, land was taken by the government for reallocation. Each recognised farmer on Lion Peak was given one acre of land to grow tea. Since there were eight farmers amongst the family, the Wangs were given eight acres.
There were only six farms on Mountain Peak that were officially recognized and thus allowed to grow tea at the time. The Wangs were Team No.4, and they were given an official plaque to identify them as such, a momento they were only too proud to show us.
Since de-centralisation, many of the neighbouring farms and land were then sold by residents to large operators. The large operators would then hire back the previous owners to make what the Wangs express with some disdain “chengbao” (承包) tea or, “contract” tea. Faster churn, pay-cheque tea, not a lot of love.
These days with the hike in land value, if the Wangs decide to sell, they would make a fortune but they’re sticking to their roots. For the love of tradition and their way of life, the Wangs continue to produce uncompromised quality with complete autonomy.
What it Takes
Proper Dragon Well production is extremely labour intensive, everything is done by hand. For two months during spring, eight farm hands pick the tea, each picking comprise of a bud and one leaf. A total harvest only produces 200kg of tea. After the tea is picked, the leaves are fired by highly skilled and experienced women, who are said to have the right temperament and ability in order to hand press the leaves against hot woks with the right amount of pressure and timing. Hand-firing takes five hours for every “jin” (500g).
Having such a low yield per year and requiring the labour of so many individuals is part of the reason why real dragon well is priced the way it is. But even if you do the maths, you will note that this provides only a modest income to be shared amongst a team of 10-12 people for an entire year. Not to mention the Wangs dedication to a stringent quality discipline which allows only spring harvest, hand-picked bud and one only.
Needless to say the effort is reflected in the taste. Having about 50% buds, there is a lingering sweet after-breath akin to a white tea not otherwise associated with green teas. The front of the palate will taste young corn and unroasted tree nuts. The hint of a “green” component in this can be likened to kangkung.
Dry leaves: yellow and light green, rounded yet petite, bud and one leaf
Liquor: light yellow colour
Taste: baby corn, macadamia, kangkung
Process: withered, shaped, wok-fired