“At first I didn’t really comprehend it, but then it struck me: this tea was literally on the bush just a few days ago [in Hangzhou], and here it is in my cup [half way across the globe]”, said Teance’s manager as he prepared the first steep of the Dragon Well. It took me a moment too. The tea is only ONE WEEK OLD. Unless you’re physically at the tea master’s house right after he finished roasting the leaves, you just can’t get any fresher tea than this.
The Dragon Well is fickle. Tea is fickle in general, green tea is even more so, but the Dragon Well in particular changes completely from one season to the next. Two years ago when I first tasted Dragon Well, I was blown away by its profound vegetal awakening. This spring, it tastes nutty and sweet. It elevates the edamame – lima bean – chesnut mochi. (Later I saw that Teance describes it as “warming and subtle with chesnut notes,” I haven’t had chesnut, but that explains a lot why it complements the mochi so well.)
The first steep and the second steep are also worlds apart. If the first steep has extreme complexity of chesnut, sweetgrass, coriander, passion fruit, satsuma sweet potato, etc., the second steep is reduced to standard warmth and nuttiness. The tea is fleeting (3-4 times exhaust its flavors), and the notes are simple but difficult to capture.
On a side note, we’re learning about haiku in my Japanese class. Haikus must always contain elements of nature and seasons. Chesnut invokes feelings of autumn. I found it funny that this very spring tea we shared on an April afternoon actually tastes of autumn, with chesnut mochi to boost. I thought about writing a haiku to commemorate the sweet tea, but decided that I best showed my respect by simply enjoying it while it’s warm (read: I just don’t want to think, okay? :-P).
It took me a couple of trials to figure out the right way to steep the Dragon Well (I felt terrible about wasting its potential when it didn’t come out right):
– Amount of tea: ~ 3 grams (~ 1 teaspoon?)
– Pour water into server, let it cool to ~160F (the steam should be gently rising instead of rolling up) – cooler water allows one to let the water stays with the tea longer without burning it and subsequently opens a wider path for the tea to bloom.
– First steep: 45 seconds – 1 minute. Second & third steeps: 30 seconds. Briefly stir after 30 second (first steep) or 20 seconds (subsequent steeps).
What makes this tea so precious, including its “pre-rain” quality, are described in my previous post on Dragon Well.