by Helen Kinsella on June 29th, 2017
One of the real heroes of our 2017 Spring Limited Edition Collection is the Yellow Sprig Dan Cong, an oolong from the Phoenix Mountains with a long and fascinating history, which undergoes an extraordinary transformation from tea bush to cup.
The Yellow Sprig Dan Cong is a precious and amazingly flavoursome tea, which is why there was no question whether it would have a place in this year’s spring collection! While thousands of varieties of oolong exist, few compare when it comes to the Yellow Sprig’s intense flavours that assault the senses over and over. Its tiny leaves are picked from just ten 200 year-old tea trees that grow on the slopes of Wu Dong Shan in Guangdong, China. Their home is rocky, almost barren, but these conditions are crucial for giving the tea its prized characteristics. Their roots grow deep beneath the rock, seeking out nutrients and moisture, causing the trees to grow so slowly that each leaf practically bursts with concentrated flavour.
Once picked, the leaves are passed on to the talented tea master, Yang Chunguo in Da An Village, and the transformation really begins. They are gently withered in evening sunshine, then left to cool in the shade for 1-2 hours where they begin to emit a grassy, vegetal aroma. Next comes the oxidation process, known in this region as Peng-qing. The leaves are shaken on bamboo plates, bruising their surface and promoting enzyme activity within the leaf. This process transforms their aroma from fresh and grassy to strong, fruity and floral, rich like caramelised fruit.
Peng-qing is a time intensive process, taking up to ten hours to reach the exact level of oxidation needed. Once Yang Chunguo is satisfied, the leaves are fried in a pan for 4-5 minutes, then rolled whilst still warm to halt oxidation, reduce moisture and develop the unique flavours and aromas.
Finally, and crucially, the leaves are heated in a bamboo basket over charcoal which adds the final layer of incredible flavor to this already complex tea. Yang Chunguo tells us that the heat is never so high that the tea gains a “baked” flavour, but instead becomes dark and mature with notes of honey and roasted stone fruit. It is this that gives the Yellow Sprig the iconic flavours that are synonymous with Dan Congs from this region. Rich, deeply floral and sweet with caramelised fruit notes, offset against the crisp darkness of the charcoal.
As well as the taste of this remarkable tea, what we really love is its extraordinary history. These leaves have a genetic background like no other. The Huang Zhi Xiang cultivar which gives us this tea is a direct descendent of the mother bush, which is now over 700 years old. The leaves of the original tree were discovered to have a unique gardenia aroma, the result of a natural mutation. Cuttings were quickly taken and cultivated to preserve the unique and precious leaves so that the same tea could be enjoyed by future generations, and not be diluted by cross breeding. We’re so glad that they did, because hundreds of years later, the Yellow Sprig is still driving tea enthusiasts crazy across the globe.
Buy Yellow Sprig Dan Cong here.