Master Luo made two cups of his Long Jing for me to compare. Like most Chinese, he poured the hot water straight from the thermos into the glass, where he had put one measure of pre-Qingming Long Jing and one of a later Long Jing. The leaves floating in the water shone with a very fresh vivid spring colour. It is the colour from the year before! It felt that by firing, Master Luo has stopped time.
Surprisingly the leaves he used came out of a normal plastic shopping bag.
Q: How do you store your tea? They look so incredibly fresh!
A: I keep them in a cool storage. I have a special cool storage where I keep all my Long Jing.
Q: Do you just put them in those bags? No need to seal them?
A: It’s fine. As far as the room is cool. A good fired Long Jing can keep being fresh for a long time as far as it is kept in a cool place. But when the new Long Jing is made, you will see how gray the old one has become.
Q: I noticed you didn’t make any tea for yourself, just a glass of hot water.
A: (shy smile again) I don’t drink any coffee, or alcohol, only hot water. I usually only drink tea when I am firing.
Q: Why is that? Any specially reason?
A: (Smile and smile), no particular reason. I just prefer water.
Q: Do you have any students? How did you learn it?
A: Yes, one, the son of my mum’s cousin. The government also has asked me to teach, they send some students to me every year from universities. Those students only need to know a general process for their research. It normally needs 6 to 7 years to practice to be a real firer. I started when I was in the middle school. I was 12 years old when I chose to stop school, nobody suggested it but I wanted to come back to the village from the city to study with my grandpa. My cousin and I started at the same time, it was very competitive between us. We only did “Qing Guo” (the first step) at the beginning for 2 to 3 years. Then we started to do “Hui Guo” (the second step). When we became 18,19 years old, we finally could start to learn everything properly. I started to fire independently was I was 21 years old. I like the green and yellowish colour, my cousin like the dark yellow colour, he likes heavy firing. Mine is different compare to many of the firers’, if you mix my teas together with the others, then shake it, you will see my leaves will come to the top.
Q: Why the shape is so flat?
A: I think it is from the monks in Ling Yin Si (Ling Yin Temple). They made Sparrow’s Tongue in the very early years. Sparrow’s Tongue is the beginning of Long Jing.
Q: Any technique reasons?
A: yes, if it is not in flat shape, it will not be fired evenly, the colour will be dark, the temperature won’t be right, no taste. For example, when you fire “Qing Guo”, you can’t put more than 100 grams in the wok, in order to spread the temperature evenly.
Q: Do you use electric wok?
A: yes, I do. It is easy to control the temperature.
Q: Any secret in the water when you brew a good cup of Long Jing?
A: The water here is softer.
Q: Tell me more about “Old Tea Tree” and “No.43” please?
A: “Old Tea Tree” grows slower and produces less tea compare to “No.43”. It sells for less money as well. Sometimes “Old Tea Tree” is sold for half the price of “No.43”. Therefore lots of people cut down “Old Tea tree” and plant “No.43” instead, which in my opinion is a very stupid thing to do. I worked very closely with Tea Research Institute of China on this, but unfortunately you cannot make a law about it. “No.43” is easy to plant, easy to grow by cutting.
Q: What are your opinions about the future of Long Jing?
A: Positive. The tea farmers are slowly changing as well. Many of us make Long Jing for more than just earning money. To keep our pride, we don’t make fake West Lake Long Jing. Because we have to learn to protect ourselves by having a longer term vision and make “West Lake Long Jing” a reliable brand in the tea world. We want that most people can afford to buy our teas. We are against extortionate profits, like what has happened before on West Lake Long Jing market.