Making sense of Chinese teas can be rather tricky. How things are translated is one issue. Multiple names being used is another. And the cultural inclination to be poetic about those names comes in to play. The category of oolongs known as “Dancong” or “Dan Cong” is a great example. But hang in there – these teas are special enough to justify you making that effort to work your way through the maze of information about them. This article will get you started. I have attempted to give you a basic outline, with future articles giving you more details. Let’s start with what Dancong means and the basic types of Dancong oolongs.
What Is Dancong?
“Dancong” in Chinese symbols is 单丛 and is often translated as “single trunk/bush” (depends on the translator). The word “Dancong” is the spelling in our alphabet of roughly how the word is pronounced in either Mandarin or Cantonese (the symbols are usually the same but the pronunciations are different). When they say “single,” they mean a single variety, which is Shui Xian, with the growers carefully selecting specific trees/bushes and tending them to produce certain traits in the finished product. This makes them different from Wuyi Shui Xian, Zhang Ping Shui Xian, and the number of others. Some of the ones used for Dancong are over 100 years old, according to several online sites. They have been able to expand on the number of these trees and bushes through grafting, creating a “family” of trees. The total output is pretty small and is one of the reasons the tea price is considerable. Another is that their reputation is growing, and therefore so is demand (and fakery). The best kind is “Phoenix Dancong,” so time to check that out.
There is a mountain range in the Northeast part of Guangdong province in China. (The province is on the south coast of China.) This range, which is where this tea comes from, is called “Phoenix Mountains” so often these teas include “Phoenix” in their name. The other name for this range is “Fenghuang Shan” (or “Fenghuangshan”) so you’ll see the teas offered under the name “Fenghuang oolong” sometimes. Below is the Google map showing the mountain range’s basic location (that little “A” marker) and a good chunk of the province, including Guangzhou (the capital of the province) and Hong Kong that had been under British control until 30 June 1997 when they were officially handed over to Chinese rule. The mountain is not that accessible, which is another factor in this tea’s pricing and availability.
The Basic Types of Phoenix Dancong Oolongs
The 100+ different types of Dancong oolongs listed in the Chaozhou Chronicles are in these sub-categories that are based on their unique fragrance:
# – Name – Chinese symbols – Description
1a Huang Zhi Xiang 黄枝香 Gardenia Fragrance (aka Yellow Sprig Fragrance)
1b Huang Zhi Xiang (similar sounding but different root word) 黄栀香 Gardenia Fragrance
2a Zhi Zi Hua Xiang 栀子花香 Gardenia Fragrance
2b Zhi Lan Xiang 芝兰香 Orchid Fragrance (aka Iris Fragrance)
3 Mi Lan Xiang 蜜兰香 Honey Orchid Fragrance
4a Gui Hua Xiang 桂花香 Osmanthus Fragrance
4b You Hua Xiang (on some lists in place of Gui Hua Xiang) 柚花香 Pomelo Flower Fragrance
5 Yu Lan Xiang 玉兰香 Magnolia Fragrance
6a Jiang Hua Xiang 姜花香 Ginger Flower Fragrance
6b Tong Tian Xiang (alt name for Jiang Hua Xiang above) 通天香 Heavenly Fragrance
7 Ye Lai Xiang 夜来香 Tuberose Fragrance
8 Mo Li Xiang 茉莉香 Jasmine Fragrance
9 Xing Ren Xiang 杏仁香 Almond Fragrance
10 Rou Gui Xiang 肉桂香 Cassia Fragrance
And let’s not forget “Duck Dung Fragrance Dancong.” Never heard of it? No surprise since it is usually sold under the name “Black Leaf Dancong” or “Da Wu Ye.” When the tea was first cultivated and produced, it was quite popular, so the maker gave it an unappetizing name, hoping to deter imitators. No such luck. Graftings were soon being grown all over the area and the name changed to the one we know today – “Black Leaf” after the dark color of the processed leaves.
Harvesting conditions are critical with these teas (and others). The leaves also must be picked according to three specific conditions: 1) not in early morning (they should not have dew on them), 2) not on a rainy day (the leaves harvested during the rain fetch less than half of what they would if harvested on a sunny day, rather challenging since the harvest is usually during the rainy season where it’s raining about 80% of the time), and 3) not when the sun is shining too hot. Processing begins immediately after harvesting.
Dancongs are made outside of the Phoenix Mountains area, but these are not considered as good as the true Phoenix versions. So, look for “Phoenix” in the name and be sure to buy from a reputable vendor, since imitations abound.
Watch for more articles spotlighting some of these teas on an individual basis. We already wrote about 3 of these earlier on this blog:
- Mt. Wudong Yu Lan Xiang (Magnolia) Phoenix Dancong Oolong
- Nonpareil Mt. Wudong Song Variety Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong
- Nonpareil Mt. Wudong Song Variety Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia) Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong
More to come, covering the full range we are now offering in our very special sampler set.
In the meantime, happy sipping!