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Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

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Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

tasting Mrs. Li's Shi Feng Longjing green teas

January 12, 2021

now through Thursday 08/11

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Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter, Monday 01/11/21

This article is excerpted from our Daily Deal Newsletter.
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Hi tea friends,

Today I’m thinking about minerality.

This word gets thrown around a lot - not just in tea, but in the world of wine, spirits, and beyond. It’s an odd term. Most of us don’t eat rocks on a daily basis, but across all these worlds of taste, we seem to agree that the concept of “rock” is a beautiful thing worth pursuing.

Is minerality really just the taste of rock? I asked Li Xiangxi in WuyishanMaster Zhang in Anxi and Li Xiaoping in Dragonwell - all regions famous for mineral-driven teas - and the resounding answer is: no. Minerality is not just the taste of rock.

Minerality is our way of understanding a unique texture and physical sensation on the palate that is tingling and precise while being soft at the same time, like the lightest carbonation you could imagine. This texture creates a sense of contrast that makes aftertastes even sweeter and allows them to build up over time, separate from the aroma.

Li Xiaoping leads us up Shi Feng (Lion's Peak) above her home in Longjing Village (Dragonwell)

In tea, minerality is a textural complexity that does require rocky terroir to come forward, but it isn’t exactly the sensation of drinking rocks or even necessarily dissolved mineral solids. It is a bit more complicated.

Li Xiaoping talks about her Dragonwell’s unique minerality in terms of the mixture of the eroded limestone and more solid quartz that forms the mountainside of Shi Feng (Lion’s Peak), combined with the deep mountain springs that filter through layers of stone.

This combination of coarse limestone and quartz and deep springs means that rainwater doesn’t sit on the surface of the ground to feed the tea plant. Instead, water soaks right in because there is no clay to slow it down. The tea plant has to respond by putting out deeper and deeper roots to get to underground spring water and highly filtered rain water. These roots are accessing more nutrients than they would in clay and also absorbing water much more slowly. Slow water intake means slow plant growth and more complexity and sweetness concentrated in the small leaves and buds that form. In this sense, minerality in the terroir of Shi Feng (Lion's Peak) refers to both the direct intake of minerals and their flavor as well as the effect of rocky soil in encouraging deeper healthier roots and slow growth

small spring buds on Mrs. Li's tea plants

Take it all together, and you get rich, sweet texturally complex tea that is worlds away from flat plantation teas growing in clay or loam and getting tons of sunlight. The plants may be happy, but the tea they produce will not be as fine. This is a big piece of the magic that makes the Lion’s Peak (Shi Feng) microclimate one of the best in the world.

What’s the rest of the magic? Li Xiaoping and her husband Shui Huamin’s craft, environmental stewardship and dedication of course!

Li Xiaoping's husband - Shui Huamin - finishes the family's Dragonwell green teas

If you are into minerality or want to get to know it better, try Li Xiaoping’s Dragonwell. Mrs. Li is one of our oldest, dearest partners and friends in China, recipient of many awards and recognitions, and just one of the kindest people out there. 

Which Dragonwell should you try?

The lightest in flavor and most mineral-driven textural example is the First Picking Dragonwell. If you are looking for a bit more brightness and aromatics to bolster the minerality, try the 1st picking #43.

For a more even balance between sweet aftertaste, mineral texture and flavor, the classic harvests of Dragonwell and the #43 are a great option. These ones will be a touch less sweet and “tingling” than the 1st pickings but more aromatic and flavorful.

Finally, the Semi-Wild Dragonwell is a limited harvest from Li Xiaoping’s mountaintop plot of untended Dragonwell bushes that are allowed to grow without trimming. These capture deep minerality and intense flavor and aroma with a more wild’ herbaceous foresty undertone.

You really can’t go wrong! Try them all and really get to know that distinctive mineral tingling texture. 

Happy sipping,
David

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Explore Mrs. Li's Shi Feng Dragonwell green tea:

  1. 2022 Shi Feng Dragonwell
    2022 Shi Feng Dragonwell

    This famous tea is grown using beyond organic green tea cultivation techniques for rich sweet flavor, incredible texture and notes of bamboo and jasmine. Situated on a perfectly-shaded mountainside, Li Xiaoping’s Dragonwell benefits from Shi Feng’s unique climate, rocky quartz soil and sweet mountain springs. Her craft captures a rare example of true Dragonwell- deep minerality, persistent sweetness and complex aromatics.

  2. 2022 1st Picking Shi Feng Longjing #43
    2022 1st Picking Shi Feng Longjing #43

    #43 Varietal Dragonwell was specifically bred and selected to bud even earlier than classic Dragonwell in Shi Feng and yields yellower plumper buds that make for gorgeous steeping in glassware. While classic Dragonwell is all about rocky mineral texture, the new #43 is a crisp, bright focused experience centered around stronger flavor and aroma and more pronounced sweetness. Mrs. Li's first picking of the year is full of all the nutrients and sugars stored by the plant all winter long and offers a more complex, sweet and subtle taste experience. It has a longer aftertaste and thicker texture than later harvests. The soil is full of quartz and white sand while the water comes from natural mountain springs, yielding a flavor that simply can’t be matched outside of Shi Feng itself.

  3. 2022 Shifeng Semi-Wild High Peak Dragonwell
    2022 Shifeng Semi-Wild High Peak Dragonwell
    This limited offering from Li Xiaoping can only be picked in years where the weather is cool and temperate and the rain is very light. At the very top of the peak of Shi Feng, there is a grove of trees that have been allowed to grow undisturbed to preserve a natural habitat for birds and increase biodiversity. Among the trees, the Li family has tea plants that have not been cut back and trimmed every year like the lower slope plants. Because these semi-wild Dragonwell bushes are not tended, they require perfect weather to yield the right flavor. Li Xiaoping was able to pick these bushes again this year and offered us the majority of her tiny yield in the interest of cultural exchange and sharing a unique side of Shi Feng’s terroir not often seen. The flavor is rich, bold and complex, sharing the lingering sweetness an aromatic subtlety of early harvest Dragonwell with the big flavor of later harvests. The tea benefits from Shi Feng’s unique quartz-heavy white sand soil and mountain spring water, as well as the cool protected microclimate that the mountains form.
  4. 2022 Shi Feng Longjing #43
    2022 Shi Feng Longjing #43

    A new varietal with sweet vegetal bright flavor notes, and beautiful leaves that dance in your cup, #43 is grown with the same care and organic green tea cultivation techniques as Li Xiaoping’s classic Shi Feng Dragonwell. Situated on a perfectly-shaded mountainside, Li Xiaoping’s Longjing #43 benefits from Shi Feng’s unique climate, rocky quartz soil and sweet mountain springs. Her craft captures a rare example of true Dragonwell- deep minerality, persistent sweetness and complex aromatics.

  5. 2022 1st Picking Shi Feng Dragonwell
    2022 1st Picking Shi Feng Dragonwell

    This early spring tea is all about a fine and subtle sweetness, and a long, drawn out aftertaste and crisp texture. Cool spring weather produces a small harvest of truly sweet tea. This is Mrs. Li’s first picking of the season, carefully hand-finished by her husband, Shui Huamin. Her true original cultivar Dragonwell (Longjing Qunti) grows on the mountain slopes of Shi Feng and draws in sweet mountain spring water.

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