Our 2009 Imperial Dragon Well and Lotus Heart Are Harvested!

Saturday is Qing Ming, the Chinese holiday for appreciating the arrival of spring and honoring ancestors. Unlike many Chinese holidays based on the lunar cycle, Qing Ming arrives 15 days after the vernal equinox. But Qing Ming is all-important to tea lovers for a different reason: by tradition, it's the date before which the best spring dragon well tea is picked. The finest and rarest dragon wells that command the highest prices must be picked before Qing Ming. Tea picked afterward is more mature and probably diluted by abundant spring rain that usually arrives around Qing Ming.

You'll be pleased to know that Roy is in the Hangzhou region (home of the finest dragon wells) and he just sent word that our 2009 harvest of Imperial Dragon Well (que she, or sparrow tongue grade) and Lotus Heart Dragon Well is complete! He's excited about the quality, particularly of the Imperial Dragon Well, which he says is nearly as good as the Lotus Heart this year. Here's his report:

We have another bad weather harvest this year, with an extended period of rain (around 20 straight days!). Right after the rain, the temperature warmed up quickly to as much as 20 degrees C in a one week window. However, due to our experience from the last 5-6 years, we were well prepared. Fortunately, our tea bushes are well maintained and managed. We brought in 200 skilled pickers to cover over 50 acres of bushes. We prepared for two days, inspecting the tea bushes to identify the best areas; allowing the tea to grow a bit; and getting all the wok firing equipment ready, with 30 skilled pan-firing technicians. Then we attacked the harvest and finished our entire yield of this year's Lotus Heart (total yield around 9 kg after sorting) and Imperial Dragon Well (around 20 kg after sorting).

Right after we finished, the temperature dropped to an average of 6-13 degrees C with limited sunshine. I can safely say that we have the best tea this year will produce and I am very proud of all the folks involved to make it happen. I just returned from the factory after supervising the final sorting and packaging. We used a blowing and rough-sorting machine to remove fuzz and broken leaves, then 50 hard-working women helped sort the tea by hand. Then we stored it in urns lined with lime packets to further remove moisture.

I don't have the proper equipment here to do a real cupping with temperature control, but I did cup it with water at around 70 degrees C or so and find the lotus heart extraordinarily rich with thick viscosity and texture. It has highly fragrant aromatics with slight hints of chestnuts, and an intense and long, refreshing finish. The Imperial Dragon Well compares well with this year's Lotus Heart size- and color-wise. If you didn't compare it carefully side by side, you'd be challenged to think any less of the Imperial Grade as compared to the Lotus Heart. I find this year's Imperial Dragon Well refreshingly sweet with lighter texture and viscosity. The finish is mild but persistent. The nose is delightfully fresh and fragrant. I would recommend setting the digital kettle to 55-60 degrees C and brewing 5 grams of tea in a 6-ounce Standard White Gaiwan.

The first tea should be arriving in our teahouses within the next two weeks. Due to the extremely limited quantities of 2009 Imperial Dragon Well and Lotus Heart we will accept advance reservations for these teas, with a maximum quantity of 1 pound per customer. Pricing to be determined. Email customerservice@imperialtea.com to reserve your order.

Stay tuned for more details on the 2009 spring tea harvest and pricing and availability of all the new tea.