kāi•huà lóng•dǐng 開化龍頂
origin: Kaihua, Zhejiang
Since the 1980‘s, there maybe a few new or “reconstructed” historical fine green teas come about every year in China but only a very small number are worth gastronomic attention so far. Kaihua Longding is one.
The tea is bright and lively with a unique sharpness accented with bouquet and a slight touch of herb. The body is deep and long for a baked green tea. Its character differentiates it well from other varieties in this region and adds an unmistakable breadth in the taste spectrum of Chinese green teas.
The leaves are so tiny yet beautiful that some people who drink this tea would rather sacrifice full taste to infuse it in a tall glass for looking at the “dance of small orchids” as the leaves float and sink in the hot water. They may not be the smallest leaf in Chinese green tea, but the integrity of the “one shoot, one leaf” plucking practice is so adorably reflected in the perfect tiny “orchid” shapes that it really tells a lot of the attentive labour that is employed to produce the tea.
Kaihua is a small county deep in the mountains, west of the coastal province of Zhejiang, and home to national parks and the origin of the famous Qian Tang River. The area the county is in is nicknamed the Amazon Rain Forest of China. The mountains, flora and fauna indiscriminately link it to the tea regions of the neighbouring Anhui and Jiangxi provinces.
“Long” is the word “dragon”, and “ding” means “the top”, referring both to the geographic nature of the production area (that the river zig-zag like a dragon in Chinese painting; rivers are often referred to as dragons) the tea comes from, and the quality.
It is said that the tea was developed in the 1950’s when a Jiu’keng Zhong cultivar was introduced to the region. It must have been the subsequent political and social catastrophes that arrested the whole of China for over a quarter of the century that made it virtually unheard of until the 1980’s, like perhaps a lot of other things.
Today, outside of its native region and in the closest major city that is Hangzhou and perhaps small pockets of connoisseur circles elsewhere, this tea is still pretty much unknown. Even less understand it.
The finest grades are produced in late March and the other reasonable ones in Mid April. Although the price difference between these two grade levels is a few times, the lesser popularity of the tea variety is not pushing even the price of the finest batch to a fraction of that of exclusive quality batches of more famous tea in the region, such as Longjing. That said, however, I cannot be particular about the wide-ranging middleman markups in different markets for lesser known tea.
While my description of the taste is founded on premium quality of this tea, the best quality that most people would be able to buy is likely to be grade 1 or 2. In some selections from certain producers of these grades, the astringency can be a bit too much.
Normally the easiest way to take care of the issue is the use of a good Yixing pot. However, as the clay material tones down the astringency, the subtle accents, which may not be adequate in normal grades, can also be compromised. A fine, high density pot may do the job just right, but if you are not in a position to buy just yet another pot for a tea which source you are not sure about, maybe you can consider putting 20% or more tealeaves, a 5~10°C lower water temperature and 35% or less infusion time, in a porcelain. Have fun playing with these parameters for the optimum result using your particular batch.