Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: First Flush Dragonwell Tea

And we're back for a real post this time! Posts are going to be slightly more spaced out for the next few weeks as we have a lot going on at the moment. Nonetheless, there is always time to sit and enjoy tea (it's writing these that takes up quite a bit of time!).

Thankfully, the lack of posts the last few weeks has built up your expectations and I'm sure you are all expecting the best post won't be disappointed. How can I be so confident that this post is going to rock your tea socks off? Because Al and I were lucky enough to get our hands on first flush Dragonwell green tea from the West Lake region. Did I mention 'first flush'? Just in case I didn't, first flush!.

Some of you might not be as excited about this as Al and I are, but let me explain why we are giddy little kids. First and foremost, Dragonwell tea is an excellent tea on it's own. Known also as Longjing (龙井) tea (茶), it comes from the Zhejin Province in China; a province known for the beautiful West Lake and surrounding gardens, not far from Shanghai on China's east side. The young tender buds and leaves are very carefully and meticulously hand-picked, dried, and then pan friend to produce fragile sparrow-tongue shaped leaves which result in a gentle, rich, toasty, and chestnut like brew. Once lovingly steeped, the straw/amber coloured liquor can be sipped all afternoon while reading a book, or in this case, writing about tea. A harsher tea would be slightly distracting, but longjing compliments leisurely activities beautifully (perfect for a young spring day such as today).

It is arguably China's most beloved green tea and is on the top 10 list of China's most famous teas (the only teas previously enjoyed by the emperor).

So far so let's take it up a notch. First flush. This is what takes an excellent tea above and beyond and transforms it into a memorable life experience. First flush is the first picking of the leaves of the season making the resulting tea the finest and freshest of the season. Quantities are very scarce and expensive as the first flush is normally reserved for the higher levels of Chinese government (that's how good it is!).

I was told that this year was the first year in a long time when the tea was made available to the public. A friend of mine (owner of My Cup of Tea) took advantage of this and visited his tea farm where he partook in the tea gathering and preparing process (to make for a very interesting post in the near future!). At the end of it all, he was able to bring back a small amount of first flush dragonwell tea to sell back home and offer small tastings to fellow enthusiasts. I was lucky enough to be invited where I heard all the stories and adventures that he had. More than that, I was supremely lucky enough to be given a small amount of the tea to try at home.

It's been sitting on my counter all week but I wanted to make sure that I could take the time to properly enjoy it. I sectioned off my Sunday afternoon and here we are!

First off, the aroma of the dry leaves is mind-boggling. I can honestly say that I have never experienced dry tea leaves that are so fragrant, fresh, and full of potential. The leaves are a straw-green colour, shaped in flat sparrow-tongues. The shape, size, and colour were consistent leaf to leaf which is already an excellent indication of it's quality. I eagerly started to prepare the water in anticipation of what would come next....I was not disappointed.

The aroma of the dry leaves was nothing in comparison to the unleashed aroma when the water hit the leaves. Smelling the leaves and closing your eyes, you are taken away to a beautiful day where the sky is crystal blue, the sun is shining, and a light breeze compliments the warm air, carrying with it the promise of spring and fresh grass. The initial smell of the tea is tantalizing and an invitation to experience the brew. 

After patiently waiting...ok that's a lie. I have to admit that I got super excited and poured myself a cup too early which resulted in mostly water. Even with a very fast steep, I was teased with what was to come and so I put my cup down and patiently waited the proper amount of time before pouring myself a second cup. The wait, though it seemed like hours due to my excitement, was well worth it. Once the leaves were given the chance, they were more than happy to release their flavours and subtleties. 

Despite the powerful (yet respectfully gentle) aroma that arose from the pot, the first initial taste was quite gentle and timid. Some green teas can be quite forceful when it comes to taste as they are young, vivacious, and full of energy but this first flush green tea was very humble and eased me into each subsequent sip. The flavours slowly built up, compounding on one another, until each layer of the leaves were exposed and the fully developed taste was revealed. Even then, the taste was not overpowering and required focus to enjoy the lighter and shyer levels.

To be perfectly honest, there is no way that my words will be able to do this tea justice and so I will quote from the tea book published by Camelia Sinensis (though even their words could not possibly do this tea justice. Also, keep in mind we are talking about tea, the imagery can be quite PG)

"The jade-green liquid releases a gentle vegetal aroma. In the mouth, the herbaceous attack is fresh and slightly sweet. The vegetal opening is full and followed by notes of green bean, cooked fennel and arugula in a gently unctuous stream. The finish is long in the mouth and mildly astringent with a remarkable balance between sweetness and strength"

Given that description, I find the tea to be quite a bit less vegetal than described but they do have a way with words. 

All in all, I can say without a doubt that this is the most luxurious tea I have had the pleasure of trying. Thankfully I was given enough for a few pots of tea and will be exploring the different angles of First Flush Dragonwell in more depth and with a calmer state of mind. I was excited for this batch and can't help but feel that this tea is to be enjoyed with a calm mind and a steady heart. I will be giving it another go this week (calmly) and will see what other notes it offers up.

(we also got a sample of a matcha infused chocolate (seen in the first picture) which was Ah.Ma.Zing.)

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