One question that tea lovers often get asked is “which is your favorite tea?”
“Whatever is in my cup at the moment” I often respond. If pressed, I will narrow it down to 1 of 3- Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess of Mercy), Wuyi Yancha (Wuyi Rock Teas such as Rougui, Shuixian, Dahongpao etc) and Phoenix Dancong (Mi Lan Xiang, Xing Ren Xiang, Huang Zhi Xiang etc). On any given day, the answer could be anyone of these 3.
Some days, the invigorating sweet and sour taste of a traditional Anxi Tieguanyin enchants my entire being. I would enjoy all 7 infusions and swear I will never drink anything else.
Other days, the full bodied robust woodiness of Wuyi Yanchas are simply alluring as I explore its changes through multiple infusions, feeling the bitterness fade into a pure yet smooth sweetness.
Most days though, I find myself pining for the charming multi-faceted bittersweet family of Dancong, more precisely, Phoenix Dancong. Perhaps it is the fact that my mother’s side of the family came from Chaozhou, not too far from Fenghuangshan where Phoenix Dancong is grown, but Dancong has an inexplicable hold on me. Hours after my last sip, I can still recall how it tastes in my throat, the alluring mix of bitter and sweet, juxtaposed against its own respective fragrance.
It could be the mead-like fragrance of Mi Lan Xiang that lingers on my teeth. Or the almond nuances dwelling in the recesses of my tongue after I consumed my Xing Ren Xiang. Or how the cinnamon bark bitterness morphs into a tingling sweetness with the Rou Gui Xiang.
There is scarcely a boring moment with Dancong.
In my opinion, the allure is accentuated even more because Dancong is a finicky customer. It dispels the oft held theory that good tea is always forgiving. You can read more about the Teachat debates here and here.
Unlike a Tieguanyin that I can brew casually and still turn out fine, if I leave it too long, the bitterness in Dancong is overpowering. If the balance of temperature and infusion time is off, the aroma doesn’t come out to the fullest. That’s all part of the fun!
Perhaps that is because Chaozhou is the home of gongfu, where tea locals relish the challenge of extracting the most from the tea. Without gongfu brewing, it is impossible to appreciate all there is in Dancong, at least authentic Dancong. Ironically the lower grade Dancongs are far more forgiving and pleasant to the beginner palate. Delicate and sweet, these teas are artificially scented and it doesn’t take much to get the overpowering aroma to be released in the first infusion. Too bad that’s about all it’s good for. The second or third infusion, there is no mead. Or almond. Or ginger.
The good Dancongs preserve their fragrance through multiple infusions as they continually challenge your brewing technique . From lower water temperatures to shorter infusion times, you find yourself experimenting to find the right balance. One thing’s for sure though, the results are worth it. Do I sound like it’s my favorite tea? You bet, that’s what I’m drinking at the moment.
Maybe next month I will write about another of my favorite oolong teas as I sip it.
Tea photo provided by author
Featured image courtesy of zirconicusso of freedigitalphotos.net