This afternoon I've been enjoying some 11 year old Song Zhong dancong oolong from Jing Tea Shop in this tiny ROC pin zi ni pot originally from Hou De. The pot is probably one of my nicest pieces of teaware; the clay has a sort of viscous visual texture, and the pot has an old sort of energy to it. The clay's pretty high fired for being zi ni and the details are pretty well-done considering how small they are. The only problem is that, although it was listed as having a 65ml capacity, its actual volume is only 55ml. While I don't usually quibble over 10-20ml differences with pots, the difference here comes at that critical threshold that impacts the pot's practicality. Especially with this pot's flat shape, 55ml is simply to small to use with most tea types; in my experience, even concerted efforts to make use of pots this small almost always results in tea that's less optimal than in slightly larger pots. I love gong fu tea in small vessels, but if you go too small, you continue shrinking past the point of utility--the tea leaves stay the same size! Even 65ml was a little on the edge of my ideal capacity; if I'd known the pot was this small I probably wouldn't have purchased it in the first place, but once I experienced it in person it was tough to want to part with it on aesthetic grounds. So, because the leaves are small and I use a much smaller ratio than with other tea types, I can only use this pot effectively with dancong, which brings up some other issues.
While I do enjoy dancong, I don't keep a lot of it around because I go through it really slowly (I only use about 3-4 grams for 70ml of water, compared to about 6 for pu-erh and 7-9 for most yan cha) and because it's tough to find a tea I really want to drink more than two or three times in a season. Like most other oolongs, dancongs are getting really green--the flavors, aromas and brewing durability are all pretty incredible, from what I've experienced, but I usually find myself longing for something with a bit more depth. A good Mi Lan dancong is usually a bit more oxidized, but I've most enjoyed the dancong I've had that undergo at least moderate roasting (surprise surprise). The floral aromas usually become much fruiter, the mouthfeel changes and, though the brewing durability usually reduces a bit, the tea's just much more up my alley. And yet, it seems much easier to find green dancong. This aged tea has mellowed just a bit in its storage, but really I think it's the roasting that makes it most enjoyable to me. I wish I had more of it and more teas like it so I could use this pot a bit more--Jing Tea Shop's current Song Zhong is obviously much less roasted (though it receives comparatively higher roasting than some of their other qing xiang oolongs). Anybody know any good roasted dancong teas? I haven't tried (but am open to) Tea Habitat and am not especially crazy for the dancong I've had from Hou De, but haven't tried much else.
For Westerners without the means to travel to Asia, our knowledge and experience of tea comes second-hand, with a healthy dose of mystery. Therefore, it's tough to really know anything for sure, let alone make claims about being any sort of expert. Instead, we can only enjoy and learn from small tastes of something ... smuggled in ... hopefully building a reliable knowledge base and maybe even scratching the surface of truly great tea.