This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter, Tuesday 09/22/20
What makes a tea cultivar worth growing?
A single farmer believing in that varietal, making the choice to devote the extra labor and care to sharing it. That’s it. Any varietal can be a new window into understanding a growing region, or showing off the craft of the farmer, and in different places and different hands, the same tea can take on unexpected new life.
When a passionate, lifelong farmer like Li Xiaoping in Dragonwell decides to plant a new varietal on some of the most valuable tea growing land in the world – the slopes of Shi Feng – it is hard not to take note.
So in the spirit of honoring the tea cultivars that talented growers bring to life through their labor, let’s jump right into tasting both classic Longjing Qunti, and new #43 to see what both bring to understanding Dragonwell terroir and Li Xiaoping and her husband Shui Huamin’s values as craftspeople.
Side by side, I have the very first picking of the year from both varietals, ready to brew up. I am using the double-pitcher style that brings out the most in green tea, leaving a little water to cover the leaves, a Dragonwell tradition to prevent oxidation between steepings.
Let’s start with the Classic 1st Picking Longjing Qunti as a baseline:
The initial aroma is so pure in its green vegetal notes it feels like a matcha dessert and roasted chestnut with a touch of sweet sesame.
The first sips are incredibly sweet and immediately mouth-watering with a distinctive crisp texture that comes both from the down from these early buds and from the rocky quartz-heavy soil of Shi Feng Dragonwell. The vibrant green core is softened by delicate florals
As the tea steeps out, the savory chestnut of the initial aroma swirls in to combine with the deep vegetal notes and mineral tones creating perfect compositional balance that engages every part of the palate. Holding the tea in the mouth and then exhaling, there is a ringing and slight cooling textural sensation that begins to develop
By late steepings that cooling and ringing sensation begins to take over and the sweet dessert qualities of early steepings give way to mineral-laden exploration of place.
Let’s compare this mineral-focused tea to the new #43:
The wet leaf aroma of the #43 is laden with soft vanilla and marigold florals, with sweet cream and fresh greens.
The first sips are warm and sunny, with a light tangerine note whose juiciness leads into floral aromatics and a soft mineral undertone. These mineral notes are so soft that they fill the mouth in an almost creamy way
The later steepings bring out much more sesame and brown sugar to complement the vanilla floral undertones and ground the juicy texture. The aftertaste is thick and lingering.
As the tea steeps out, it maintains its perfectly soft minerality while the citrus undertones keep bolstering the aftertaste. The sesame and brown sugar come together as a creamy sweetness.
Comparing both varietals, it feels like Longjing Qunti captures the underlying landscape – the mountains, trees and rock – while #43 captures the dynamic landscape – the warmth of the sun, the wildflowers, and humidity. Both teas are a true picture of place, but focused on different pieces.
Which varietal is right for you? If you tend to like rocky foresty cooling teas- the Longjing Qunti shows that off beautifully, while if you tend to like juicy aroma-driven teas, the Longjing #43 delivers.