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Can you really trace Dan Cong tea back to one single bush?

What does ‘Dan Cong’ really mean?

by on March 8th, 2013

Canton Tea Club Week 23

We’ve already tasted two traditional Dan Cong oolongs in the club (Xing Ren, week 3 and Mi Lan, Week 10), and we’ve explained why we love it. But, we’ve not yet touched on a very interesting area of debate in the tea community: what does “Dan Cong” actually mean?

Let’s start by saying that there is not really a completely literal English translation of the Chinese ‘Dan Cong’. It is mostly translated as ‘Single Bush’ or ‘Single Trunk’, but it’s not really this that is the problem – it’s the way Dan Cong is produced that is the contested issue. Does ‘Single Bush’ really mean that you can trace the tea in your cup back to one single tree?

This topic has sparked some seriously heated exchanges. If you have time, take a look at the two blog posts mentioned below to see the kind of opinions that members of the tea community hold on Dan Cong…the argument might be fiercer than you anticipated. Here’s a little summary of the debate so far:

Roy, the owner of a US Tea House, stated on his blog that the term ‘Single Trunk’ is only a botanical one (alluding to the fact that whilst some tea bushes grow in a cluster of branches from the ground, The Dan Cong tea tree has one single trunk with branches expanding further up), and further, that it is an internet fallacy that Dan Cong tea can come from one tree alone.

Next up, Imen. Owner of a Tea Shop specialising in Dan Cong, Imen responded to this opinion by stating that it is possible to produce a crop of tea from one single bush, and chastised Roy for trying to convince tea drinkers that Single Bush tea doesn’t really exist (after all, this does rather imply that any tea shop is a fraud for selling it, and Roy does directly accuse Imen of misleading the public). Imen understandably took this rather personally. In the end, Roy acknowledged that Dan Cong can be made from one single tree, but not in ‘marketable quantities’. And this is where he does have a point.

Yes, a true Dan Cong tea can be produced from one single tree, but these crops probably represent less than 1% of “Dan Cong” Tea that is on the market. These crops will be so highly prized (and priced) that they will most likely be a very long waiting list, filled with Chinese state officials, dignitaries and other VIPS…that is if the farmer doesn’t just keep it to drink for himself (and we wouldn’t blame him or her if they did).

The other 99% of ‘Dan Cong’ tea on the market will generally fall into two categories:

1. “Commercial Grade” Dan Congs such as our Mi Lan Dan Cong. We are not ashamed to say that our Mi Lan is commercial grade. Whilst this might conjure up images of mass-produced teabags, in fact, all “commercial grade” Dan Cong really means is that the leaves are picked from a number of trees that are planted together. This means that the tea is affordable for both us to buy and sell to the public. And if you are lucky enough to have tried it, we’re sure you’ll agree that it is an absolutely stunning tea.

2. “Descendent” Dan Congs such as Aged Song Zhong. These are a slightly higher grade (and therefore price) than commercial grade Dan Congs as they are harvested from trees that are direct descendants of one single famous, age old Dan Cong tree.

So, both Imen and Roy are correct in ways, although it took a rather pointless argument for them to get to the heart of the issue. Roy acknowledges that it is possible to produce a crop of tea from a single bush, but he knows that even the most devoted western tea enthusiast won’t get to taste one in their lifetime. Imen was correct to challenge Roy’s first outright statement that there is no true Single Bush tea on the market and that any one selling it is misleading the public.

Confusing? Very.

Really what we’re trying to say is that, TECHNICALLY, true Dan Congs are crops from single trees. But other grades of Dan Cong are still wonderful, beautiful, stunningly delicious teas and we have no qualms about calling them Dan Cong and selling them to our customers as such. As long as we know that our Dan Cong is good quality and tastes delicious, we’re not so worried about the semantics.

What do you think?

Does is matter to you that your Dan Cong doesn’t come from one Single Tree?

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  1. adp3355 says:

    The tasting notes are spot on.  The dry leaves smell of sultans and raisins.  In the warmed pot the aroma intensifies to that of fermenting grapes.  First brew brings out some toastiness, but not too much, and the flavour is of chocolate cherry biscuits.  Then on to sweet grapes and tropical flowers.  By the third cup, the maltiness is stronger, but the fruitiness still there.  The lingering depth and power of sweetness and flavour is stunning.  Truly a delicious experience – another great Dan Cong tea from Canton.