The charm of phoenix dancong oolong: ever-changing fragrances and aromas in a cup.
Snow Flake is a phoenix dancong oolong from Phoenix Mountain of the city of Chaozhou, in Guangdong province.
The Chinese tea culture is inherited from Chaozhou gongfu-style tea. It is an integral part of people’s lives in Chaozhou. Under the eaves of every house and every shop, is a gongfu tea set: a simple and plain porcelain gaiwan, a round tea tray, three tea cups, and a pot of boiling water. Tea is drank first thing in the morning, after dinner in the evening, and throughout the day.
Fenghuang Mountain or Phoenix Mountain, located 30 km away from the city, has a long history of tea growing dating back to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The oldest tea tree is still called “Song Zhong” and “Song King Tree”.
At the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), many people from the city of Chaozhou emigrated to Southeast Asia, and the tea merchants followed along. Phoenix oolong started to flourish as it represented the unique taste and flavor of their hometown.
The name phoenix dancong translates into “phoenix single grove”, referring to the way in which each varietal of phoenix dancong was created. A wild “mother tree” with its own distinct fragrance and taste is selected amongst the indigenous and ancient tea trees in Phoenix Mountain. It is then cloned through the process of grafting and propagation. After several generations of this cultivar propagation, there are now almost one hundred famous varietals of phoenix dancong, each with a unique fragrance and aroma. Most were named after the specific aromas, such as Gardenia, Magnolia, Jasmine.
Phoenix Mountain consists of several mountains and peaks, most of which extend into the clouds at the high altitudes of 800m above sea level. The most famous and prestigious producing region for Phoenix oolong is the neighboring Wudong Mountain. Most of the villages, at more than 1000m altitude, are immersed in the cloud and mist for two-thirds of the year.
Our Snow Flake comes from Qipan Village on Dazhi Mountain, one of the peaks of Phoenix Mountain. It is from tea craftsman Lin Zhifu, whose family have been crafting tea for three generations. Elegantly named Snow Flake, only a small amount is harvested in the depths of winter. The cooler temperatures result in a unique tea that is exceptionally aromatic with an airy texture.
The fresh leaves are handpicked in the early hours of the day and withered indoors on bamboo mats for 10 hours. In the early evening, when the leaves have lost some of their moisture content, the most critical step of making dancong oolong begins—the tossing and bruising of the leaves to achieve the right amount of oxidation. The master uses his hands to evenly toss and turn the leaves in a wave-like motion, creating gentle collisions between the leaves to allow even oxidation to occur. The leaves go through several rounds of tossing and bruising until the edges turn slightly red from oxidation. This process lasts several hours. The next morning after a short nap, the master starts the process of rolling, shaping, and roasting the leaves. Finally, the tea is baked at a low temperature over charcoal to enhance the flavor profile and complexity.
The experience of drinking this tea reminds us of a painting by famed Buddhist monk and painter, Shi Tao 石涛, “Returning Home”. In the painting, a boatman rows his boat forward with nothing around him but mountain peaks high above and wild grass far below. Beautiful and poetic, yet sparse with empty space and room for the mind to wonder and contemplate, much like this tea.
This tea has notes of milk custard and cotton candy on the nose. On the palate, notes of muscat raisins, sugar tangerine and macadamia nuts, with a long lingering sweet aftertaste.