Updated: Jul 2
China has vast tea-production areas. Almost all the great mountains in the country produce famous teas. The great mountains have lush forests, misty cloud seas, and clear springs. Together, they make a warm, humid, and shady environment suitable for the gowth of tea trees. Almost all the famous teas made in the past and modern times are from the great mountains.
Dancong (single clump) Tea from Mt. Phoenix
Mt.Phoenix is located in Chao’an County to the north of ChaoZhou City of GuangDong Province. About 1500 meters above sea level, its mean peak is the highest peak in ChaoZhou Distrct. The areas is close to the South China sea and enjoys a warm climate and plenty of rainfall. It is covered with cloud, mist, and moist air all the year around, making it an ideal place to cultivate Phoenix Narcissus, an improved tea tree variety.
Accoding to the legend, tea planting in Mt. Phoenix started in the end of the Southern Song Dynasty. At that time, Song Emperor Zhao Bing was forced into exile by yuan army. At the wudong hill in Mt. Phoenix, he was thirsty. His attendants picked some tender leaves from local tea trees and cooked the tea for him. The tea proved a great relief for Zhao Bing and he highly praised it. Since then, people in Chao’an widely planted tea trees and named local tea tree “Song Strain”. Today, on the cliff of the WuDong Hill, the two characters “Song Strain” can still been seen. In the WuDong Hill of Mt.Phoenix, there are still over one thousand tea trees planted in different dynasties, including the Song( 960-1279), the Yuan (1279-1368), the Ming (1368-1644), the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and even the modern times. The oldest tea trees are 800 years old and they are the offspring of Song Strain.
Phoenix Dancong is made with only the leaves of the high-quality individual tea trees among the tall Phoenix Narcissus group variety. The finished tea is straight, fat, and yellowish brown, with intense natural flower scent. The tea soup is clear and has a strong sweet and brisk taste and a special mountain taste and honey flavor, which linger even after repeated brewing.
There are at least over 80 varieties of Phoenix Dancong Oolong tea. The most famous ones include Yellow Branch Aroma, Cinnamon Aroma, Irises and Orchids Aroma, Pervasive Aroma,Jasmine Aroma, Almond Aroma, Sweet-scented Osmanthus Aroma, Whitish Honey Aroma, and Honey Orchid Aroma.
Though all growing in the WuDong Hill and made into the strip-shaped tea with green stem,green central part, and red edge, the Phoenix Dancong tea trees have different ages and different germ plasm and thus their own mountain tastes and honey flavors. During brewing, a strong aroma can be smelt ten steps away. The tea soup has a strong taste and lasts long. Tea picking and making should be done differently according to the different flavors of different tea trees. The Phoenix Dancong Tea made with freshly mature tender tips has a unique quality.
The name of 凤凰单丛 means the single shrub (单丛 Dan-cong) of tea cultivar. This is referring to the individual plant selected and cultivated from the group of Phoenix Shui-xian tea cultivars (凤凰水仙群体品种 Feng-huang Shui-xian Qun-ti Pin-zhong) found at the Phoenix Mountain (凤凰山Feng-huang Shan). There are many sub-cultivars under the group of Phoenix Shui-xian cultivars, and each individual shrub has its own characteristic in terms of the leaf and shape of tea tree. The made tea will give a wide range of aromatic profile which varies among different individual shrub. The mother plant of the cultivar is aged more than 200 years. This selected individual plant is particularly bred and processed. This is one of the remarkable cultivars among the Phoenix cultivars.
This cultivar is the small arbor (小乔木 Xiao-qiao-mu) with leaf of middle size in long-oval shape. The leaf is yellowish green in color with a sharp tip. The leaf is very thick but soft with bud in light yellowish green color. The budding season starts by the end of March.
The plucking starts by the end of March. When the first buds grow and fully develop, it is called Zhu-ya (驻芽). This indicates the starting of plucking season: the bud is plucked together with 2-3 leaves. In particular, the plucking is not carried out if leaf is covered with thick dew or after the rain. The hand-plucking is carried out with care in order not to cause damage to the leaf, and the plucked leaf must be lightly placed in the bamboo basket.
In Chao Zhou area, there is a unique brewing technique called either Chao Zhou brewing style or Gong-fu brewing style. This brewing method requires a higher ratio of tea leaves to the volume of water. The Dan Cong tea will be steeped repeatedly, each for a brief time with boiling water. The advantage is shortening the brewing time and while extract concentrated flavors from tea leaves instantly. Less brewing time minimizes the contact of tea leaves with hot water. Eventually tea leaves are not overheated and we can enjoy a very fresh and original flavor of tea from each brewing. In addition, it is easier to make tea tastes much thicker and richer with this brewing method. If one is getting used to very thick Phoenix tea brewed in Chao Zhou style, it is hard for them to enjoy lightly brewed tea anymore. Since this method requires higher ratio of tea leaves, it is advisable to use smaller tea ware so as to minimize the consumption of tea leaves, thus preventing wastage especially those very high-end Phoenix Dan Cong tea from old tea trees.
In Chao Zhou, most of people use a Gaiwan to brew tea. It is suitable to use the Gaiwan with a capacity volume of about 50-100ml. Since you can brew most of Phoenix Dan Cong teas up to 10 - 20 times, a small Gaiwan is very ideal.