I had my first Tea Aha Moment with my mentor Donna Fellman back in 2001. Since that day I've had many of these little epiphanies for many different types of tea.
I've always been intrigued by Phoenix Dancong (鳳凰单丛) oolong tea but I never really understood why some folks are crazy for it. The 2007 Winter Fenghuang Wudong old bush from Hou De almost qualified as an Aha Moment, but because that particular tea was so unique I could not compare it to a normal Phoenix Dancong.
Normal (by which I mean "commercially available in North America") Phoenix Dancong, in my experience, has those beautiful, carefully twisted leaves...
Their are so many different cultivars used to produce them. One of the most common is called Milan Xiang (蜜蘭香) (Honey Orchid Fragrance). I've had a few nice experiences with these teas, but they've never satisfied me the way a good Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong, Ti Kuan Yin (鐵觀音) or Yan Cha (岩茶) could.
My Phoenix Dancong Aha Moment finally came earlier this month while taking care of my kids and doing household chores. I was drinking the Phoenix Dancong that my own tea company is selling. I used a small gaiwan about 2/3 full of dry leaf and steeped the first couple infusions for about one minute. It was very pleasant.
Then I made my 3rd infusion. I forgot about it. It steeped almost 20 minutes and I was sure it would be terrible.
But it wasn't!
I liked that cup of tea so much! The flavor was really rich and presented big apricot and honey notes. It felt so thick and malty with bright, sparkly peaks of complexity. I instantly knew why people love this type of tea so much.
Since that Aha Moment I have tried hard to learn how to coax those delicious flavors into every infusion.
It hasn't been easy but I have found a happy balance. I tend to like this Dancong better with longer steeps. I also prefer using spring water or plain tap water instead of my usual filtered water. Finally, I recommend using slightly cooler water, (around 180° F) after the 3rd infusion, and not giving up on the tea until at least the 7th because my favorites seem to be the later infusions.