I'd have liked to kick this blog off with something exceedingly special, but instead it's just what I spent my morning drinking--what could be better? This is the 2007 winter harvest of Jing Tea Shop's Xing Ren Dancong oolong.
Most of the Dancong that can be found online and in the flesh here in the US are generally of underwhelming quality (not to mention boring in their lack of diversity)--usually they seem to be of the medium-roast, "Milan" variety, though they'll often be called simply "Dancong." With crap quality being the norm, it's no wonder Dancong as an oolong genre is not well-known in the West, let alone in other places. I have to admit I first fell in love with Jing's Dancongs because of the pictures. Just look at those huge, multicolored leaves--it's like a much more interesting-looking Baozhong! With only a tiny bit of research, it turns out that Dancong seems to be one of the most diverse oolong categories out there--the number of cultivars is about as huge as with Wuyi Yen Cha, and the flavor variety is even larger! This particular Dancong (whoops, didn't take any leaf pics this time) is on the lighter oxidation side, with only a light roasting. The unfurled leaves are generally pretty yellowish-green, with maybe a few brown oxidation blotches.
Robbie Basho's "The Falconer's Arm" seems to be the perfect music this morning. Cascading, ecstatic 12-string guitar really adds to a thoughtful mood. I brewed this one in a teapot I purchased at Jing--I'll put up a teapot profile later, but it's called "Yu Ru Hu" and it's made of modern Zhuni. It was my first pot purchase at Jing, and I'd say it was a pretty worthy investment; at the very least it's brewing delicious Dancong whenever I want it! The lovely tea mat was made for my by my aunt. Celadon cup and pitcher came from Hou De; they're solid and retain heat very well. Though I haven't gone as celadon-crazy as Bret from Tea Goober, I've certainly bought a few. It's rare to find hand-made pottery of this quality for such a nice price, and the size and functionality of the pieces I've purchased have been really ideal for my everyday needs, which is the most important part for me.
Anyway, if you haven't tried one of these lighter-oxidation and roasting Dancongs, it's definitely worth at least a sample; they're unique as far as I can tell. The first couple infusions give off a room-filling fruity/floral aroma. Compared to Jing's Ba Xian, which was my other favorite, this one has a slightly savory edge to supplement the tropical amalgam of fruit and flowers--maybe that's why this Dancong's name means "almond seed." I'm not sure if it reminds me of almonds in the least, but the added "foody" dimension makes this one the winner of Jing's greener Dancongs, as far as I'm concerned. One other interesting facet of these teas is the leaf aroma. Sniffing the pot at the beginning is a dizzying, intoxicating experience that combines notes of the tea's flavors with an unrelated, juicy smell that persists even after the tea leaves have cashed out on flavor. As the infusions wear on, the leaf aroma gradually loses its complexity until it's just this fruity base.
The other thing I'll note is that this tea actually has a nice, thick syrupy body (check out its light golden color in the pic above), though the astringency seems to come on after the third infusion or so. This confuses me a bit--I usually associate astringency with heavy firing--like with a Dong-Ding or Yen Cha, but this tea is only lightly roasted...I guess there are some other factors at work, though, since green tea racks up some pretty righteous astringency after several infusions too. Maybe it's because the tea is almost a year old? Despite the astringency, this tea will soldier on through 10+ infusions really easily--I always feel good about teas that can last forever. Combined with the price (under $30 for 100g) it's a pretty good value as well, compared with some of the jaw-droppingly expensive premium Dancongs available out there. This winter's harvest is still pretty fresh--this tea is listed as AA grade, while the Ba Xian and Yu Lan are AAA. I'm not sure what exactly separates the grades--leaf uniformity? Leaf size? Regardless, this one's my favorite from a flavor perspective. As usual with Jing, the tea made it all the way from China without experiencing much damage--lots of whole, big leaves. Makes me wonder why a lot of the Yen Cha I get from the US has to be so beat up and fragmented. I bought a bit too much of these Dancongs (100g each of this and the Ba Xian) for my rate of consumption, but I've promised myself not to buy this season's until I've finished off the older stuff, which is still holding up quite nicely. It's tough!
Thoughts on China and tea
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