(Or, more accurately, my birthday. Thanks, Mom and Dad!)
Yesterday I received a package from Imen Shan, who owns Tea Habitat, outside of L.A. Imen created for me a variety of samples, which will help me become acquainted with dan cong oolongs.
OVERVIEW: WHAT IS DAN CONG OOLONG?
As a very quick overview: Dan Cong oolongs can come only from Wu Dong (Phoenix Mountain), which is in Guangdong region, in the South of China. Because of thousands of years of propagating the tea plants primarily by seed, and using a subvarietal of C. sinensis sinensis that is particularly malleable and chameleonlike, the farmers developed an enormous variety of unusually flavored teas. Here there are ancient trees (some a thousand years old) with such unusual aromas that the farmers will pluck the leaves of a single tree and sell that tree's leaves, unmixed, sometimes for breathtaking prices (like $7000/kg), hence the name dan cong ("single tree").
Of course, this is the ideal for the most ancient trees. In practice, the less expensive dan congs are "single grove," rather than "single bush," with named sub-subvarietals (say, the daughter trees of a distinctive thousand-year-old mother tree) all being sold together. They are processed into oolongs that tend to be highly fragrant, if a bit touchy-- if you don't get the water just right, or the leaves are mishandled in any way, they can be bitter; but if you prepare it properly, the floral high notes and unusual flavors will be very rewarding.
Happily, the handcrafted, old-bush dan congs, like the ones Imen sent to me, are rather easy to work with, because they are more forgiving and less likely to tend to bitterness than the lower-quality leaves.
Below is the list of dan congs Imen sent me, and which I'll be reviewing in the days ahead. This is by no means the entire Tea Habitat catalog, and these and many more are available on her Web site, http://www.teahabitat.com/store/. If you are interested in learning more, I urge you to contact Tea Habitat (or, if you're in the L.A. area, by all means visit).
As a reminder, the teas below are actually bred to produce the aromas of, say, jasmine, or orchid, or orange flower. None of them are artificially scented in any way.
DAN CONG SAMPLE LIST FROM TEA HABITAT
- 1986 Mi Lan Xiang, Honey Orchid
- 2004 Hong Cha Tou (wild)
- 2007 Yu Lan Xiang, Magnolia Flower Fragrance
- 2008 Mi Lan Xiang, Honey Orchid Gold Medalist #1
- 2008 Huang Zhi Xiang, Orange Flower Fragrance
- 2008 Song Zhong #4 (This comes from a 600- to 700-year-old bush)
- 2008 Zhi Lan Xiang, Cattleya Orchid Aroma
- 2009 Ju Duo Jai, Almond Aroma
- 2009 Mo Li Xiang, Jasmine Fragrance (Very rare)
- 2009 Yu Hua Xiang, Pomelo Flower Fragrance
ON A SIDE NOTE, ABOUT THE RARITY OF THIS TEA
As I'm reading up on this topic, I found it discussed by Cinnabar on her Web site, Gongfugirl.com. I posted this remark there:
Imen told me that this type of tea is uncommon in the U.S. (and I presume elsewhere in the West), largely because the more common, lower-quality plantation dan congs are very touchy and tend toward bitterness. But the high-quality leaf is transcendent. She is one of the very few that import this type of tea, direct from small farms. I feel delighted that I've discovered it. I urge you to contact her and get some of the 2009 crop she's just received-- and some of the others, as Imen directs.