Long Ding is one of eastern China’s most exquisite and distinctive teas. It is a specialty tea from western Zhejiang Province, and it should not be confused with Longjing (Dragonwell) from eastern Zhejiang Province. It is considered to be one of the 10 Famous Teas of China, with a short, though pedigreed history.
Long Ding is a Chinese tea for the Japanese green tea enthusiast. It requires supervision and care in steeping, and doesn’t like to be steeped casually or with neglect! So, if you love the ritual of tea preparation and take the time to follow a few simple steps, this tea will reward with amazing clarity and depth of flavor. We didn’t source it at all in 2018 because the 2017 harvest was particularly assertive, vegetal, and finicky, though delicious when steeped carefully. We therefore had more than a few customers who had a difficult time steeping it successfully. However,we also have many who have loved it over the years and asked last year – so where is the Long Ding, it is my favorite tea? So, this year the tea is exceptional, and I decided to try it again for those of you who really love it. Being one of the Ten Famous Teas of China, it should be on most tea enthusiast’s ‘bucket list‘!
So here is the caution: if you prepare this 2019 Long Ding and find it assertive, mildly bitter, sharp, or astringent, but sweet in the finish and with incredible lingering flavor; and otherwise bold and stimulating, in a ‘vegetal’ style, – and this is pleasant and refreshing to the palate, then you have steeped it properly. If however, you find it to be harsh and aggressive and unpleasant, then it was steeped improperly so you need to go back and try it again. One further tip: it re-steeps beautifully, numerous times. However if you scorch the leaf during the first steeping, it will not recover and both the initial and the subsequent steepings will never be delicious. So buyer beware – we will accept no criticisms or complaints regarding this tea. It is exquisite and if you don’t like it then the onus is on your technique. – see our steeping tips below –
Long Ding is everything that a rare bold & vegetal Chinese green tea should be – lovely in appearance, fresh and exhilarating in aroma, and outstanding in the cup. It is comprised of a careful plucking of one slim bud and one leaf. In the cup the tea liquor is refreshing, sweet and aromatic and underscored with elusive notes of bing cherry pip and fresh bamboo shoot. Long Ding has an incredibly long ‘hui wei‘, or aftertaste. It is not unusual for the flavor to linger on one’s palate for an hour or more.
It has a fresh, mineral-y quality that can lose its sweetness if not steeped very carefully. Long Ding insists on being steeped with cool water, for a shorter time than most other spring greens. It is the polar opposite of many spring greens that are timid and mild: it is somewhat assertive and bold in the cup. It does not respond well to being over-steeped, or being steeped in water that is hotter than about 175˚F. Time-in-the-water should be short: about one minute, two at the most during the later re-steepings. The aroma is crisp and fresh and vegetal and enticing. These qualities, influenced by the cold weather during Long Ding’s early plucking time, gives the tea backbone and structure, like a fine Riesling wine. The taste of the tea flirts with the palate and is a sheer delight.
This year’s batch is a crisply mineral tea, but not at all as ‘strong’ as the 2017 Long Ding, which had a stoney astringency that bordered on the wild side. This 2019 harvest is perfectly in balance, with its clean aroma and lean body. The overall taste and experience in the cup is crisp but soft and very well balanced. We think this year’s harvest will appeal to many tea enthusiasts, although for some it might be a wrestling match in the teacup and so more favored by those who prefer a challenging cup.
Because of the nature of the Long Ding pluck style, the bud-and-single-leaf particles may stand up straight in the water – or dance – as they steep – this is best observed by steeping the tea in a glass cup or mug. However, we personally do not like to use water that is hot enough to encourage the leaf to do this, so we find that our leaf does not reliably do this, but if you like the steeped liquor more assertive than we do you may have the additional visual fun of this phenomenon.
TIPS ON STEEPING:
Long Ding always behaves best when ‘rinsed’, as oolongs are prior to the drinking steepings. This is a quick application of water (10-20 seconds) that is just below the temperature at which it will be steeped for consumption. This quick steeping will release any strident volatile aromatics that are lingering in the cell structure from the drying process and help to open up the leaf for the real steeping. Long Ding is an aggressively-flavored tea and should be tried using various waters (use soft water when possible; Evian is quite delicious) and following different foods. As is the rule with drinking Japanese green teas, if you drink it after having something sweet, it might be perceived as being quite bitter and unpleasant. However, when steeped carefully and drunk ‘neat’ it is a quintessential, old-school, strong Chinese Spring Green Tea. Many Japanese tea enthusiasts have a small snack of something savory (or salty) before or with their stronger teas; this is a brilliant idea for mitigating the assertiveness of Long Ding too.
When we steep this tea, after the ‘rinse’, we add cold water to the leaf in the steeping vessel, enough ‘to cover’. Then we add the steeping water. This brings the temperature of the steeping water down even more than to the 170˚F-180˚F that is traditionally recommended. We steep the tea for approx 45 seconds and expect it to yield 4-8 steepings. We also often let the steeped liquor cool to slightly above, at, or below room temperature, and drink it at that temperature. Utterly delicious and sweet! We do not tend to increase the steeping time as we re-steep (as we do with many other teas). In fact, sometimes we decrease the steeping time for the re-steepings (as is the case with some oolongs). Try different techniques – and have fun!
Our visit to the Long Ding tea factory on our first tea-sourcing trip to China was such a memorable experience. This region has many bamboo forests and a lush forest environment that is perfect for nurturing tea bushes to produce fine green tea. Grown in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of tea production where Anhui, Zhejiang, and Jiangxi Provinces meet, there are numerous small mountains and large lakes in the area. One day we spent a half day ‘on the water’ tasting tea on a large, stable leisure boat while touring the various islands and coastlines of one of the larger lakes in the region. We didn’t need to worry about spillage, as the whole boat was wet anyway and would be swabbed down before being re-loaded with fresh passengers, so we could be as messy as we needed to be while we tasted dozens of local green teas! There was even an island in the lake that was inhabited exclusively by monkeys, and they were active and noisy!! (No monkey picked tea there, though…)
We are thrilled to be able to offer this tea once again for our tea enthusiast customers.
Pre-Qing Ming teas are the first teas plucked each new spring season. Depending on the location and altitude in each tea producing region, leaf plucking can begin as early as the middle week of March and continue until April 5th.
Pre-Qing Ming teas command the highest prices because the demand for these teas outpaces the supply each year. This is especially true for the Famous Teas such as Long Ding and Longjing, and the fever for these teas hits in China as well as in the West.