Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Phoenix Dancong Aha Moment

I'm not sure where the term originates but according to psychologist John Kounios an Aha Moment is: "Any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light."

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... this...

...and appears slightly red and green after it has infused many times... this.

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.


Lelia said...

I got my first Dancong a couple of weeks ago and have really been enjoying it. I am thinking of dedicating my little Yixing pot to it. What do you think about that?

Brett said...

Hi Lelia! Thanks for the comment. That sounds like a wonderful idea. Let me know how it works out.

Alex Zorach said...

This experience actually parallels the same experience I had when I first brewed dancong, which was Adagio Teas' Dancong Aria. In that review I settled on a 10 minute infusion followed by 15 minutes for #2...I was loving the fruity qualities, but the long steeping made it too astringent.

I didn't have a huge amount of sample from them, and I don't think I ever figured out how to brew it to my satisfaction. But subsequent Dancongs I've enjoyed more.

I find that as a general rule, they tend to be slower to infuse than other oolongs, often so slow that it throws me for a loop...although there's a huge amount of variability from one tea to the next.