Phoenix Dan Cong is a style of oolong tea originating in Phoenix Mountain in China’s southern Guangdong province that dates back to the Song dynasty.
Coming from New Zealand, where Peter Jackson is a local legend, one could be mistaken for assuming the word “dan cong” is in fact, “king kong”. And there may be a connection as the term dan cong, or “single-trunk,” refers to the cultivation method whereby the tea trees are allowed to grow wild until they reach full height (up to 5-metres) and form their own tree trunk, as opposed to terraced tea gardens where the tea bushes are pruned into low rows. They are, therefore, the giants in the tea plant world.
The teas produced from this area are categorized according to their distinct tea tree cultivars, which are named after the fruits and flowers that they are associated with in terms of their flavour profile. In the past, naming of these teas was unsystematic and complicated. However, in the last 50 or so years, the Chinese government has developed a system of registration (predominantly for commercial teas). The top 10 fragrances are: Yu Lan Xiang (magnolia flower fragrance); Huang Zhi Xiang (orange flower fragrance); Xing Ren Xiang (almond flavour); Zhi Lan Xiang (orchid fragrance); Mi Lan Xiang (honey orchid fragrance); Gui Hua Xiang (osmanthus fragrance); You Hua Xiang 9pomelo/grapefruit flower fragrance); Jiang Hua Xiang (ginger flower fragrance); Rou Gui Xiang (cinnamon flavour); and Mi Lan Xiang (milan flower fragrance).
This particular tea is made with the ‘Mi Lan Xiang’ cultivar. During harvesting, tall ladders are used to hand pluck the leaves (bud with 2-3 leaves). Harvesting strictly follows the three “Don’ts”: don’t pick in strong sunlight, don’t pick early in the morning and don’t pick in the rain. The leaves are then hand-roasted to stop oxidisation, thus imparting their unique flavour.
On inspection, the leaf looks similar to Wuyi Rock Oolong from Fujian Province. However, the aroma is vastly different. While Wuyi oolongs have a smoky/earthy/roasted scent, this Dan Cong is heavily fragrant with floral (orchid) and stone fruit (peach/nectarines) notes.
The first sip of the liquor is intoxicating: it has a smooth thick depth of flavour beginning with a flowery orchid and nectar sweetness, accompanied by a roasted note. This is followed up by lingering notes of honey, ginseng and stone fruits. The wildly aromatic aftertaste lingers for some time (which means I am in no hurry to do a second infusion).
For the second infusion, the flavour starts out sweet and smooth, with its heady floral notes but the honey has gained dominance. There is no astringency or bitterness at all.
Much like Gui Hua Xiang (Osmanthus), this tea is reasonably strong in flavour. A characteristic of a good dan cong (according to U.S. tea educator, Jason Walker). However, the New Zealand tea palate is unlikely to be accustomed to this character profile.
To wrap up: This tea is no doubt a mid-grade tea, grown around 1,000 metres. Dan congs grown higher (above 1,200 metres) tend to be sold for exorbitantly high prices before the tea even reaches the market. That said, this tea is wonderfully fragrant and produces numerous infusions. And, at a price of US$8 for 50g, that’s a decent deal.
Basic Brewing Guidelines: Water- 90 degrees; Leaf to Water Ratio – 3g per 150ml; Brewing Time – 1.5 minutes to start.
Flavors: Black Currant, Blackberry, Cocoa, Grapes, Honey, Malt