The best tea cultivar for Longjing is cultivar No.43.The Longjing produced using this cultivar gives distinguishing character: the appearance is flat, smooth and sleek, straight with sharp-tips and bud, with delicate green color, and yellowish edge. When brewed, it gives a long-lasting delicate fragrance with mellow taste. Besides, the sprouting occurs simultaneously and uniformly, the bud and leaf gives an even color and size. This is important for making high grade tea with remarkable neat appearance.
Furthermore, every year, the sprouting season of Cultivar No. 43 shifted to 7-10 days earlier than other cultivars. In China, the earlier the Longjing appears on the market, the better the selling price. Drinking the earliest tea during spring is the culture which people are fond of. Therefore, this cultivar is highly appreciated by farmers. The Longjing cultivar No.43 passes the assessment at national level, and is recognized as a fine breed.
During the early spring, one bud and one leaf or one bud with two leaves (which just starts to open up, called Chu-zhan is hand-plucked. The length of bud is 2.5-3.0 cm. The length of bud is an indication reflecting the degree of delicacy (Nen-du) of tea leaves.The plucking is carried out at the earliest possible time to harvest the young shoots. It is said that the best time to harvest the best quality of Longjing is before (Qing Ming, occurring on April 4 (leap years) or April 5 (other years) of the Gregorian calendar), the product is named as (Ming-qian Cha).
Subsequently, tea harvested before Grain Rain is considerably good quality; it is named (Yu-qian Cha). In a day, even an expert can only manage to harvest as much as 1.0-1.5kg of young shoots. In any event, 0.5kg contains about 60,000 pieces of young shoots.
In addition, the tea leaves must be carefully selected during plucking:
1) Pick the bud and leaf of the same size, in even and orderly form
2) Do not pluck together with the long stalk
3) Do not pluck bud/leaf in purple color
4) Do not pluck bud and leaf which is damaged by plant disease
5) Do not pluck the tiny leaf attached to bud.
After plucking, the leaves are transferred to a cool place indoors. During the sunny days, usually in the spring season, the tea leaves are spread to a thin layer (3-5 cm) and left for 6-12 hours without turning or mixing; but if the leaves are plucked after the rain or contains much dew, the tea leaves are spread to a much thinner layer, then lightly turned and mixed for 2-3 times.
It must be carried out with much care and attention and so as not to cause damage to the leaves (damaged leaves will turn red and affect the quality of the end product).
During this period, the water content is vaporized from fresh leaves until it is reduced to about 70%. The spreading causes the leaves to emit a greenish grassy smell, reduce the bitterness and astringent taste, increase amino acid relative concentration which improve the briskness of liquor.
Besides, it helps to avoid leaves becoming lump during frying. It improves the quality of tea made; as the color remains a delicate green with a smooth and sleek appearance.
Quality Inspection Criteria:
Dry Tea Leaf
Leaf is flat, lustrous and sleek, straight with sharp pointed tips, with the length of within 2.5-3.0 cm.Leaf is covered with a white down that is closely well set to leaf and is hidden; it is not easily seen and will unfurl when brewed.
If of poor quality, the length is longer, shape is less flat and blunt. When looking at the leaves, if too much 'fish eye bubble' (Yu-yan Pao) is found on its surface, this indicates that the leaf is over-fried.
Even though the shape of leaf is as described above, it is not of good quality as the taste is bitter.
Color of Dry Leaf
Color of dry leaf: Yellowish green color, even, bright and lustrous.For poor quality, the leaf is not lustrous, in darker green color with a dull appearance, and mixed with leaves of various colors.Besides, over-fried leaf appears to be in dark grayish color.
The good quality tea consists of pieces of leaf of fairly even size and color. Poor quality tea contains a lot of broken pieces, and mixed with broad strips of leaves. The leaf is a mixture of yellowish or dark green.
The well-made tea must be free from extraneous matter such as fiber, bamboo or wooden flakes, sand or stone, dust.
The dry leaf gives fresh a greenish note, while the aroma of poor quality tea is overcast and can hardly being sensed. When brewed, the liquor gives a fresh green note and long-lasting flavor. This is the characteristic of the most superior Longjing which is highly sought after, indicating the high quality of raw material being produced with the proper handling process. It is also recognized as it has an aroma of chestnut. The poor quality product gives a grassy flavor which is similar to stewed vegetable or green pea. If the leaf is over-fired, the strong firing effect or even burnt aroma is detectable.
Color of Liquor
Bright, clean and pure, with delicate bluish green color. For poor quality tea, the liquor is yellowish or dull yellowish color.
The taste is brisk, refreshing, smooth, mellow and has a sweet after taste. If the tea is of poor quality, the taste is astringent, bitter, with greenish grassy taste.
Brewed Tea Leaf
The brewed leaves show a fresh, bright and even green color. The leaves are well-attached to the bud, appears like the flower petals. When touched with the finger, the leaves are thick but soft and elastic.For poor quality tea, the brewed leaf consists of much broken pieces in dark green color or yellowish brown color. It is mixed with a single leaf without bud. If red color spot is found on the leaves, it indicates poor-handling –this shows that the leaves are damaged during plucking or spreading which cause oxidation of enzyme to take place before blanching.
Besides, good quality tea should not contain much insect bitten leaves which show uneven holes on the leaves.In addition, if the leaf is over-fried at higher temperature and burnt, the holes with even shape can be seen on the brewed leaf. The real Longjing cultivar comes with the bud closely attached with leaf/leaves to form the small and exquisite shape like flower. The length of bud is slightly longer than the leaf. The width of the leaf is narrower (about 0.5-1cm), while other cultivars contain leaf which is wider, bigger and longer than the bud, and not closely attached to the bud.
The real Longjing cultivar is very smooth and sleek when touched compared to other cultivars. The brewed leaf retains a mild fresh note, while other cultivars give a greenish grassy note or sometimes give no flavor at all after brewing.