December 11, 2009

2009 Phoenix Mountain Dan Cong

It,s been a long time since I last had a really good Dan Cong. Back when Hou De had acquired their Dan Congs I had bought pretty much a lb. of each they had to offer and consequently got kinda burned out on em. Those were the first super fresh Dan Congs I had the opportunity to purchase and kinda over did it, but man those were good. I think I,m ready to pick up where I left off and this Phoenix Mountain I,m hoping will renew my interest.

Some people say the aroma of Dan Congs can be very ummm.......blunt and obnoxious. And there is a part of me that agrees, but there is also a part of me that appreciates those pungent aromas. Theres nothing light or dainty about Dan Cong Oolongs. There are also some who believe that Phoenix Mountain Dan Congs are made from a single tea tree, meaning that the one single trees harvest for that year is processed and sold as is and not blended with teas from other trees in the area. While the idea of that appeals to me, I think it,s doubtful that this is true. The only reason I even bring the subject up is because it was on my mind, I had recently read an article where Imen (Tea Habitat) and Roy (Imperial Tea Court) were going at it over this same issue. With Imen supporting the concept of single tree offerings and Roy saying that this is impossible due to the small qty. that a tree can produce in a season. It kinda bugs me to be agreeing with Roy but I cant help it, the single bush theory just doesn't make sense to me. I don't really care one way or the other, all I care about is whether or not I like the tea.
This tea I picked up at a local tea shop (Central Market) and the sales woman didn't seem to know anything about the tea other than it,s name and that it sells for $189.00 a lb. Judging by the appearance and smell of the dry leaf I could tell it is fresh and a good quality, the leaf is in good condition with not many broken leaves. The leafs color is rich and vibrant, not the dusty, muted colors of an older tea. It appears to be both lightly fermented and roasted. The leaf has a light honey and floral aroma with a cool and refreshing aspect. A tad of the citrus thing is also present. Five grams of leaf are harangued into the small zhuni and rinsed once with boiling water, add more water and with a 15 second infusion time I get a golden yellow brew with superb clarity. The tea turns the slightest bit orange when exposed to fresh air for a few seconds. What relief, I was glad to not see a brown tea pouring from the pot. With Dan Congs that's what you want, yellow tea , not brown. Brown could be a sign of lesser quality or older tea. The flavor reflects it,s aromas fairly well. This has got to be the most elegant Dan Cong Ive ever had, the flavors are very well balanced. Deliciously sweet and slightly syrupy. Pungent with the herbal, floral, barely noticeable citrus (orange) flavor and aroma and at the same time so cool and clean. Reminds me of eucalyptus. The flavor permeates immediately into every part of my mouth and nose. I can smell the tea quite strongly even before Ive swallowed. Sweet, cooling and floral. The second infusion is brutal, in a good way. More of the same but even heavier and almost overwhelming. This tea needs small cups and a leisurely approach, no gulping. I might just need to go back and get a couple more ounces of this tea, pretty good stuff.

It,s weird that Ive bought Dan Congs from all the "cool" online vendors and none of the teas Ive had from them can hold a candle to the one I bought here in town at a local store. Not that the vendors teas were poor quality or anything it,s just that this one is so much damned better. Ive never found Dan Congs to be really durable, they usually turn rather unpleasant in the latter infusions. But this tea keeps it going through the sixth or seventh infusion without turning too funky. In fact the latter cups are much sweeter and floral than the first few infusions. To me worn out Dan Congs are not a nice tea experience. A damned fine tea this one is, and it,s filling out my tea collection nicely. There is more to life than puerh you know!
Ive learned over the years through trial and error that coaxing the best from any Dan Cong requires that you pay attention to details. Of course the qty. of leaf used is important, the yixing in the picture above has a 125 ml. capacity, the qty. of leaf should be around 5-6 gms. Rinse the leaves very briefly and then commence brewing. Ive found boiling water works best for me. The first infusion is your guide for infusion times for the rest of the session. What I,m aiming for is full saturation without over steeping and bringing out the unwanted astringent, harsher flavors. I,m mainly judging infusion times by the color of the brew. Once the optimum strength has been established I am trying to get the same color in each successive infusion. I think that Dan Cong teas can be tricky to brew and it all boils down to timing for the most part. With a lot of other types of tea a few seconds doesn't make all that much difference. But with Dan Congs those few seconds can be the difference between a bland under extracted cup or an over extracted, astringent cup. This way of brewing Dan Cong is what Ive found to work best for me. There is no magic involved it,s just a matter of paying close attention to the teas color. If this helps anyone to get a better cup then great. If you disagree with me about any of this you don't really have to tell me about it.