Verdant Tea

Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

Exploring Minerality with Dragonwell Tea

tasting Mrs. Li's Shi Feng Longjing green teas

January 12, 2021

Originally shared in our Tasting Journal Newsletter

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,

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