Dragonwell tea, otherwise known as Long Jing (龙井) in Chinese, is probably China's most famous tea - it's green, light and regularly grabs headlines with ludicrous auction prices for first flush teas each April.
The tea fields - Long Jing is usually picked before Qing Ming Festival in early April, just after the early spring rains and warming weather have provided young tea shoots the growth spurt they need!
The perfect tea leaf for Long Jing is a tiny young shoot stil wrapped by one or two other young leaves, as seen in the photo above.
The tea pickers must have experience to know which leaves to pick, and manual picking is the only way to ensure only the best young shoots are used.
Manual sorting of the leaves is also an important step; the pickers here are sorting out any incorrect leaves or thick stems/roots that may have accidentally made their way into the leaves. An insider secret for you - for low priced teas, the sorting mostly happens after the tea is processed. For competition grade or extremely high priced teas, sorting of the leaves happens before processing (otherwise rough stems and foliage may affect the taste of the tea during processing).
Long Jing, like most other teas, undergoes a period of wilting. Normally several hours long, during wilting the water content of the teas is reduced, and some oxidisation occurs that helps shape the flavour of the tea.
This video shows the key step in Long Jing processing - the frying! Yep, Long Jing tea is fried, without oil of course, but in a large wok. This manual process helps change the taste of the tea, and also gives the leaves their renowned 'dagger' shape.
The final product! Newly processed Long Jing is immensely fragrant, quite rich and soft tasting. A top tip if you're trying to evaluate the quality of a Long Jing tea by its dry leaves - look for uniform sized leaves that are actually quite subdued in colour. Fully grown leaves tend to be more green, but for a top price Long Jing, you want to have only the more pale, almost yellow looking small shoots.