by kate on October 19th, 2012
Tea lover and writer Geoffrey Norman kindly agreed to write a history of his personal love affair with one of the most sought-after teas in the world: Dan Cong. This week you can taste one of his favourites and see for yourself why these teas are called “The Champagne of Oolong”.
Geoffrey: Early on in my hesitant exploration of oolongs, the name “Dan Cong” sometimes came up. I always thought it was pronounced “Dan Kong”, and I was bombarded with images of a nonexistent kung fu film – “Danny Cong: Warrior of Justice”. Or something. A fellow tea nerd corrected my mispronunciation; it was supposed to sound like “Dan Song”.
“Dan Cong” literally translates to “single trunk” or “single bush”, usually a reference to its single origin roots. There is some confusion regarding this, since true single origin Dan Cong is very hard to come by – like Da Hong Pao from one of the original Red Robe trees. When one thinks of Dan Cong, oolong tea comes to mind. It just so happens, though, that the first Dan Cong I ever tried was a black tea. I have no idea if it was from the same “single origin” as the oolong, but I liked it quite a bit.
A year or so would go by before another Dan Cong graced my cup. Again, this was not a typical offering. This time around, it was an aged oolong – a ten-year-old Song Zhong Dan Cong. It was *THE* perfect oolong – tart where it had to be, sweet where it wanted to be, and luscious where it ought to be. Going for an aged Dan Cong over a young ‘un was like test-driving a Ferrari before a Ford Focus. I had no idea if I wanted to step back and try a more youthful offering.
Fast-forward another year or so, and Canton Tea sent me two new Dan Congs they’d added to their arsenal. Keep in mind that ALL of my prior Dan Cong experiences up to this point were through Canton – the black, the aged, all of it. I had to accept that my Dan Cong destiny was intertwined with them. The first was a Jiang Hua (Ginger Flower) Dan Cong, made from up-to-60-year-old trees – the leaves of which were only harvested once a year. The second was a Xing Ren (Almond), plucked from 80-year-old trees. Both were from separate tea plant varietals, and both were acquired from the same tea farmer in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China.
The first on the docket was the Jiang Hua. They weren’t kidding when they said it was a floral and buttery oolong. On a blind taste-test, I would’ve thought this was a Taiwanese varietal. It was very Li Shan-ish in some respects, minus the sweetness. Butter and flowers dominated the profile. In short, enthusiastic approval from me.
The Xing Ren – in my opinion – differed with the Jiang Hua in both delivery and excellence. This was what I thought of when the word “Dan Cong” came to mind. The flavor was tart, nutty, sweet, and with just a smidge of butter on the fringe. It was the closest in character to the Song Zhong I coveted so lustfully.
Now came the time to finally write about them. For some reason, I put off the endeavor for weeks. In that span, I found another Dan Cong completely by accident. Yet again, it was a Canton Tea offering – the Ba Xian. To put it bluntly, it’s been my go-to iced tea for a number of days now. There’s just no escaping it. Dan Cong has me dancing to its song…like a tea-picking monkey.
OK. Are we at cross purposes. Are you talking about the Dan Cong? It's the Arya Darjeeling which I have found to have all that flavour over so many infusions.
Tomorrow I thought I might try that Dan Cong again with 5 secs, rather than 15s, although the Hawaiin green tea might have dropped in by then.
You may have been brewing for longer, but, I can assure you, if you start at 5 secs and add a few secs only each time, and use very little water at 95 deg, the beautiful flavours unfold over 8 infusions, or more!
We tried again this morning and found that shorter steeping times resulted in virtually tasteless infusions. That may be why f h murphy was unimpressed.
Additional note: Great for those liking lighter tasting teas. Those who are used to drinking stronger teas will need to mentally prepare themselves for such a light, tangy flavor.
Dry leaves – large pieces, dark color (brown), sweet planty aroma. Taste – did 3 infusions: #1 clear pale gree-yellow liquid, faint aroma with hint of fruitiness, pale fruity taste, very pleasant, hint of woodsiness; #2 pale yellow liquid, fruitier taste; #3 pale yellow liquid, more fruity tang. A true “sipper” tea and one to be savored, not rushed. Kudos on the selection of this as one of the teas to try for this launch of the tea club. Note: the flavor of this tea is best if you let the liquid cool slightly before trying.
I got my Dan Cong yesterday and have been hanging out with it all day. @lazy_literatus - Two things: 1. SO Cool that you are the Special Guest (lovely write-up, no surprise) and 2. You may find this hard to believe, but I had never thought of "tartness" associated with tea. And yet, there it is. Thank you for awakening my brain to that designation!
I'm enjoying my introduction to Dan Cong, though I'll say that I'm not experiencing the floral fragrance that some others have mentioned. Now on my 3rd infusion of the day, I'm getting some floral undertones in the flavor, but my first infusion leaned toward the green.
That's a pretty amazing thought, isn't it, that these tea leaves in my cup are from an 80-year old tea tree? What things those trees have seen, the seasons, the lives of people growing around them! I'd like to think that some of that acquired knowledge and wisdom somehow steeps into my being. Happy thought, that!
I'm a bit late, the tea has arrived in time but work stuff bring be far from home. Well, after the first infusion i have to say that i was more surprised with the pouchong but maybe i was too short of infusion or number of leaves. I'll try again soon!
While I've already written about this on two occasions, I just had to report mine arrived today. Couldn't have happened at a better time. I was completely out of my old stores of it. I'd almost forgotten how idyllic it is, as far as Chinese oolongs go. Buttery, floral and tart - a wonderful combination on a mornin' steeped in job hunting. *heh*
My first session with this tea was a bit of an experiment, somewhere between the quick method and the slow one, ie 10 to 12 infusions, starting at 15 secs with 5 to 10 secs added each time. This was not a great success, too many infusions for one thing and the flavours seemed too subtle and delicate, and I wondered if this tea was going to be a bit like the Emperor's new clothes.
The second session I had worked out in advance and was just 7 infusions, starting at 30 secs and going through 1, 1 30, 2, 2 30, 4 and 6 mins. That was more satisfiying and substantial in flavours.
The initial taste is of apricot kernal (not almond), with a fruitiness and apricotness showing on 2 and 3, after a rather perfumy aspect initially. By 4 a nutiness had joined in and by 5 the perfume to fruit aspect had moved towards the earthy, with a light artingency ( in an oolong sense) with a light oolong fruitgum aftertaste mouthfeel. Infusions 2 through 5 had the most interest and intensity of flavour.
My third session with this tea, in an hour or two, will be a variation on full Gaiwan style, using much less leaf (I don't want to use half the packet in one session!) as well as water and starting at 5 secs, after which I shall report back.
Does the above match any others' experience?
We got more of a fruity tang than nuttiness. Stopped at 3 infusions since flavor was so light. One thing I have to disagree with the original write-up on this tea is that it can undergo 7-8 infusions. No way!
This is tea number 3 from the Canton Tea Club. The almond in the title is what seriously peaked my interest'o'meter in this one and the longest I could wait before trying it was a day. Congratulations also to Geoffrey Norman for being this weeks special guest. Bravo.
Whilst raw this tea looks like your average oolong, long rolled up leaves of a dark brown and slightly dark green colour with a fresh and slightly floral fragrance. Once brewed this picks up a slight nuttiness in the smell (to add to the floral and fresh fragrances) and it's also got a slight sweetness about it. The colour is a light honey colour (yellow but with a slight brown tinge).
The first few sips show sweet floral tones that have fresh and nutty flavours. I love tea's that taste very similar to how they smell and this is definitely one of them. As for the nuttiness I mentioned above I would say that almond is an appropriate nut to resemble the flavours to as it's not an overly sweet nut and is somewhat creamy/buttery and so is this tea.
There is some strength to the oolong itself which I believe is a result from using Ju Duo Zai tree's of around 80 years in age to create this beautiful blend but it's not as strong as a matured oolong. A strength of something in-between would be a perfect(ish) description. As I am writing this review my tea has cooled slightly which has brought out some of the sweetness and butteryness and around luke warm temperate now is perfect for me.
In one word this tea is: BEAUTIFUL.
@ch3rryprinc3ss Thank you for the compliment, dear. And, yes, this tea is beautiful...and fared quite well to my ugly brewing approaches. *heh*