There were some TV commercials for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Various respectable-looking adults found themselves restricted for choice at breakfast time, while camping or abroad, perhaps… Anyway, they were forced by circumstance to eat Corn Flakes.
“I’d forgotten how good they taste”, they each said. And that was the tagline of the series.
The implication was not that these adults had grown out of breakfast cereals; it was merely that they had spent years pursuing different kinds of breakfast cereal, neglecting the one that started it all. Rather than getting sick of Corn Flakes, they had merely been distracted from the truth of their crispy deliciousness.
There’s a similar danger, I believe, with Long Jing (龙井绿茶).
If foreigners know the name of any Chinese green tea, likely as not it will be Long jing, maybe as the Wade Giles “Lung Ching” or as the translated “Dragon Well”.
For Chinese, too, this is the most famous of green teas, the name that most readily trips off the tongue.
That President Xi Jinping presented a cup of Long Jing to Barack Obama in 2016 is not just because they were then in Hangzhou, the home of this legendary tea. Had they met in Beijing, the President could easily have offered the same variety.
It’s not just leaders that can afford this classic green tea. I’ve had a lot of Long jing in my life. But it’s been a long time since I craved it.
Curiosity tempts me to keep trying new teas. And, honestly speaking, Long jing sometimes disappoints, being a product where price is somehow no guarantee of quality. And, being a generic name for any green tea with flattened leaves, not just tea from that exact region in Hangzhou, the quality variation is enormous.
In these pages, I have previously written about a very green Long jing leaf that turned blue after an afternoon of steeping, and a batch which never lost the plastic tang of its (over) packaging.
But Long Jing does still positively surprise me sometimes, and not just in the Corn Flakes way.
On top of the “roast chicken”, asparagus and nutty qualities, I’m occasionally aware of fennel/aniseed notes. Our own editor has described the aroma of one freshly-infused Long jing as similar to popcorn, and I fully believe him!
Long Jing does not deserve to be the archetypal green tea. So many of the characteristics found in most green teas, the grassiness of the chlorophyll and the tongue- biting tannins, are absent here. Treating Long Jing as the default green tea is like treating the banana as descriptive of all “fruit”. As a category archetype, it’s less successful than Corn Flakes or Vanilla.
Long Jing’s baked flavour and lack of astringency make it an excellent introductory green tea for people unfamiliar with greens. But as a “gateway”, it’s a misleading one.
Anyway, for the first time in my life, I last month visited the tea fields of Long Jing Village (Villages 1 & 2!) in the hilly suburbs of Hangzhou. Yes. The Long jing being hand roasted is mostly for show, the real tea having been picked and packaged long before the grockle stampede of Labour Day. But the tea aroma in those hills is wonderful to witness. It’s a beautiful, civilised tea resort.