Green tea is hard to brew. When you go out and buy tea, the better places always tell you to make it with water that’s at about 180F. That’s true, but it’s hard to get water to 180F. How do you do it? You can boil it then reduce, but it’s always a guessing game unless you have a thermometer. As much of a tea nerd as I am, I don’t have one with me when I brew green tea. Thus, it becomes a bit of a hit or miss when making green tea, and adds a lot of guesswork to the process.
The reason you have to keep the water lukewarm (after the initial washing) is that if water is too hot they bruise the leaves. What you end up is a tea that looks great (colour of the liquor is quite nice) but is virtually tasteless or has strange tastes in it. The results vary, but in general, when water’s too hot bad things happen to good green tea.
Today I had a Dragonwell (Longjing/Lungching). It’s probably one of those China teas that most people have at least heard of, if not tried. It is the quintessential green tea, in some ways, and well respected everywhere for its fragrance and flavour (unlike gunpowder, which nobody drinks and actually tastes rather nasty).
A problem with Dragonwell though is that the number of grades of tea leaves is endless. You have the superior grade, you have first grade, second grade, special grade, pre-qingming pick, pre-rain pick, Lion Mountain Dragonwell, etc etc etc. The list is endless. Worse, the grades that whoever is selling you the tea uses is not necessarily the same as what they’re supposed to be. How do you pick?
I used to drink a lot of Dragonwell, so I can say that the first thing you should do is just look at the leaves. If the leaves are light green, they’re almost always better than the ones that are dark green. In fact, the darker the leaves are, chances are the worse it is. Smell is not a particularly good indicator, as even low quality Dragonwell can smell pretty nice, especially in their dried form. When taste-testing, the better quality leaves tend to brew a lighter brew… with mild bean like taste, rather than really astringent/heavy taste. That, of course, is dependent on the drinker, and people can prefer the lower grades because of their more pronounced flavour.
The prices of this tea also varies a great deal. You can pay $10 USD a pound, or you can pay $10 USD for 10 grams. Whether it is worth it or not is up to you, but when brewed properly (and I mess up often) it is one of the most exquisite teas.