Dancong Oolong teas are kind of a “science of their own”, both within the wide and diverse world of pure teas as such and within the smaller, but even more complex world of Oolong teas in particular. Therefor, in order to describe, explain and quality-wise position our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong Oolong Tea in a comprehensible manner, we first need to shine some light on the background and concept of Dancong Oolong teas in general.
Traditional origin regions of Oolong teas
The four traditional regions of origin of oolong teas are
- Wuyishan in the north of Fujian province, with its famous Rock Oolong Teas (also: ‘Yancha Oolong teas’), such as Da Hong Pao Oolong tea, Rou Gui Oolong tea, Shui Xian Oolong tea, etc.,
- Anxi County in southern Fujian, with the not lesser famous Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea, popular especially among those tea lovers with a particularly sweet ‘tea tooth’,
- Taiwan, with its numerous renowned Oolong tea cultivars, including Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea, Four Seasons Oolong tea, Jin Xuan Oolong tea, Dong Ding Oolong tea, Ruan Zhi Oolong Tea, and many more,
- the ‘Feng Huangshan’ or ‘Phoenix’ Mountains in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where Dancong Oolong teas have been grown and picked for more than 600 years now, including our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong.
History and origin of Dancong Oolong teas
Center of the relatively large Phoenix Mountains (‘Feng Huangshan’) tea cultivation region is the mountain range’s highest peak, Mount Wudong, located near the town of Chaozhou, where the documented history of Dancong Oolong teas began about 600 years ago. In addition to literature references, this is clearly evidenced by the existence of a still living and productive ‘Huang Zhi Xiang’ variety Dancong mother bush of this very age. The Dancong varieties represent an evolutionary intermediate stage of the tea tree’s spread from Yunnan into other regions of South and Central China, marking an imaginary center point between the large-leafed, up to 20 meters high Yunnanese ancient tea tree and the small-leafed tea varieties growing in the form of bushes. The Dancong “half-tree bushes”, as they are called in China for obvious reasons therefore combine features of both ends of the development line. Accordingly, the Dancong tea tree reaches heights of up to 6 meters, with relatively large and robust leaves, while at the same time producing fine and partly subtle flavor nuances that may partly resemble those of the small-leafed and low-growing Wuyi rock tea bush varieties.
In the old times, Phoenix Dancong Oolong tea was a highly valued ‘tribute tea’ at the imperial court, with its best qualities worth their weight in gold.
Types and similarities of Dancong oolong cultivars
Originally, the proliferation of the first existing, probably largely homogeneous Dancong Oolong tea bushes was done through their seeds (instead of ‘cloning’ of the bushes through cuttings). This caused a number of different Dancong Oolong tea varieties to develop already at an early stage. These differ in terms of taste and aroma characteristics, in the context of Dancong tea bush varieties often referred to as ‘fragrances’. Today, tea connoisseurs distinct between at least 10 such ‘fragrances’ or Dancong oolong cultivars. Of these, the Mi Lan Xiang (= ‘Honey Orchid’ or ‘Snow Orchid’) ‘Song Variety’ Dancong tea bush has emerged as the most popular one due to its relatively high sweetness compared to other Dancong cultivars, and because of its resulting rareness is also generally the most expensive type of Dancong Oolong tea. Other known Dancong Oolong varieties include the Ba Xian (‘Eight Immortals’), Huang Zhi Xiang (‘gardenia fragrance’), Tong Tianxiang (‘heavenly fragrance’), Jiang Hua Xiang (‘ginger flower fragrance’), Yu Lan Xiang (‘magnolia fragrance’) and Zhi Lan Xiang (‘orchid fragrance’) varietals.
Shared properties of all (real) Dancong Oolongs are a mineral ‘rock tea character’, infused by the rocky grounds of Phoenix mountain, and a certain flowery astringency that is significantly more pronounced than in Wuyi rock teas. The latter is something that quite some newbies to Oolong teas might first have to get used to, while any die-hard Dancong Oolong tea lovers will consider it as both a Plus and an indispensable Must. However, whoever will take on the thorough exploration of the broad and complex flavor spectrum of Dancong oolong teas that virtually covers all flavor-specific sensors across the tongue and taste buds, will soon discover the pleasant sides of this highly individual Oolong tea.
‘Dancong’ means “single bush”. The term goes back to a time when it could still be taken for granted that a Dancong Oolong would have been picked from just one bush variety to produce a pure ‘single variety’ Dancong Oolong tea. However, in modern times, where economic considerations often play a decisive role – especially for (mass) produced teas in the lower price segment, most Dancong Oolong teas on the market are blends of different cultivars. Not so our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong, which is not only picked from one single varietal, but also in one single tea garden. Always true to our motto ‘The finest pure teas from identifiable tea gardens at affordable prices’, it emerged as a clear winner from our degustation of different grades of the most popular Dancong cultivars.
Our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong
Place of Origin
Our Imperial Mi Lan Xiang Dancong comes from Gonghue village, located near the Fengxi reservoir at approximately 400 meters above sea level on Mt. Wudong.
Due to south China’s warm climate, teas are picked quite early in spring here each year. Accordingly, our Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang Dancong Oolong tea is picked already from the beginning of April – and for a few weeks only – from 30-40 years old Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang Dancong tea bushes. The picking standard for this tea is the 2-3 youngest leaves plus one bud, which is about the highest common picking standard for Dancong Oolong tea.
The processing of Dancong Oolong teas largely resembles that of Wuyi Oolong teas. Accordingly, our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong is processed in line with traditional standards as a strong roasted oolong tea with a high degree of oxidation. For this, the freshly picked tea leaves are first left to wilt in the sun and then indoors for several hours, this process reducing the leaves’ moisture content by about 30%. Then, the now much smoother leaves are subjected to several hours of a mechanical ‘rolling’ process, on this stage not yet serving the leaves’ shaping, but rather aiming at breaking up the leaf surfaces in order to achieve the desired oxidation effect. The tea juices leaking from the leaf as a result react with air, a characteristic of oolong teas that is one of the essential factors coining the shared taste profile features of Oolong teas. The subsequent 10-minutes roasting of the tea leaves over a high heat (about 200°C) charcoal fire stops the oxidation process and ‘fixates’ the tea leaves. Only now, the now extremely supple leaves, which at this stage have lost already more than half of their moisture content, are rolled into the characteristic long and tight, slightly curled shape. The final drying of the tea leaves at comparatively low heat in the oven (‘baking’) marks a break – or preliminary end – point of the Dancong Oolong processing cycle. The resulting tea is temporarily stored until the end of the picking season, and then subjected to thorough sorting out of all stalks and inferior quality leaves, followed by a final roasting, before the tea is ready for the market, where it is already eagerly awaited by buyers each year.
Taste and appearance
Both the dark brown to black dry tea leaves and to an even greater extent the bright shining golden cup exude a subtle, slightly flowery fragrance, reminiscent of the local wild orchids’ honey scent the Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong Oolong tea has its name from.
The broad and extremely complex flavor spectrum stretching between a slightly astringent herb-floral pole and the sweetness of the described honey flavor groups around a pronounced taste body that is characterized by mineral, earthy and nutty notes. The typical roast flavor caused by the charcoal firing is a dominant aspect in the first and – to a lower degree- the second infusion, then increasingly giving up ground in favor of the described complex floral notes and the contrasting honey aroma. Virtually all taste areas on the tongue and palate are addressed, and the long-lasting aftertaste of Spring Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong Oolong tea makes this tea’s taste, but especially its sweetness linger long after its exposure to the taste buds.
After infusion, the wet, open tea leaves show a solid dark green color, interrupted by brownish marks, where the leaf surfaces were broken during the typical Oolong tea processing as described above.
Preparation recommendations are always a bit difficult, but especially for an Oolong tea, because the Chinese type of Oolong tea preparation deviates particularly much from western tea preparation standards. However, for our Spring Imperial Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dancong Oolong tea, we strongly advise you to follow the Chinese approach, at least with regard to the preparation of several, shorter infusions instead of one longer infusion. A single prolonged infusion with a steeping period of 2 minutes or even more in our opinion won’t live up to revealing this tea’s full potential, as it won’t bring the subtle nuances and notes of this Dancong Oolong tea to your well-deserved attention. Unlike a tea that we would consider as relatively ‘forgiving’, the preparation of Dancong Oolong tea requires rather special focus and care, in order to get the best from this unique type of oolong tea. And believe us, this tea will reward you for your efforts!
We therefore recommend pouring 250-350ml water of a temperature of about 85-90°C over 3-5g tea leaves (preferably in a clay teapot) and leaving to infuse for no longer than 1 minute for a first infusion. With an even slightly shorter brew time for a second infusion and 1 minute again for each following infusion, our Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang Phoenix Oolong Dancong will produce at least 6 full value delicious infusions, each of which shows a completely individual taste profile.