The Phoenix Failed to Take Flight
Tea is such a weird thing. Even just one type of tea has several subcategories and varieties. Besides pu’er, I think oolong is the most varied type of tea. Oolong tea has three subcategories: phoenix, cliff/rock, and tieguanyin/Iron Goddess. Of the three I prefer cliff teas, and I have equal preference for phoenix oolongs and Iron Goddess teas, though I really only like traditional-style Iron Goddess (the new-age stuff just doesn’t taste as good to me).
One of the teas Teasenz sent me was a phoenix oolong (凤凰单枞/fenghuang dancong). These days, most sellers in the west refer to all phoenix oolongs as simply “phoenix” or “dancong” which is frustrating because while “dancong” literally means something to the effect of “single tree/fir,” these days dancongs have just as much variety as other types of tea. There’s 蜜兰香/Milan Xiang (Honey Orchid) and 鸭屎香/Yashi Xiang (Duck Sh*t, it doesn’t taste like that I promise). There are probably others I haven’t heard of, but I’m not a huge dancong drinker so I have a lot of exploration left to do.
The tea I got from Teasenz was also labeled “Dan Cong.” I looked on the website to try to figure out which dancong it was, but I didn’t find any information. Teasenz does offer a dancong sampler with five different dancongs though, so I might try that out some day.
In Greek mythology, phoenixes are flying bird-like creatures that die in a plume of flames and are born again from the ashes of their predecessor. The volatile compounds of phoenix oolongs react with oxygen to create vivid and rapidly changing flavors and aromas. Taking in air by slurping the tea gives rise to a new flavor profile.
To brew Teasenz’s Dan Cong, I used 4 grams of tea and 100 degree water. I’m hoping to get a variable temperature electric kettle in the future, so I can control one more aspect of tea tasting. Dan Cong’s leaves were black, thin and slightly twisted. There were splashes of green mixed into the sea of black. The dry leaves smelled strongly of ripe nectarines with the slight pungency of mild cheddar cheese. I wouldn’t say the pungent odor was cheesy per se, but cheese is the closes approximation I can come up with. When I wet the leaf, they turned bright green and I smelled wilting roses.
The first brew of Dan Cong was a very clear yellow-white. It looked a bit like white wine and had a medium-thin mouth feel. For some reason, this Dan Cong tasted a bit like traditional Tieguanyin mixed with wet grass. Dan Cong’s aftertaste was surprisingly woody, though now that I think about it perhaps saw dust is a more accurate descriptor. The tea tasted like I was chewing on a mouthful of sunflower seeds with the shells on.
In the end though, I was disappointed by how one-note the tea was. Usually dancongs are vibrant and interesting. They usually smell and taste like fruits and flowers, and change just as you start to think you’re getting to know the tea. Even when I slurped this Dan Cong, the flavor remained the same. I did enjoy the lightness of the tea though. It was quite sweet, which is to be expected of dancong oolongs, but this one was extra sweet. Besides the sweetness, however, Teasenz’s Dan Cong was rather bland.
If you’re willing to try this Dan Cong, you can find it on their website.