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Tea Review: Canton Tea Co: Yulan Dancong

June 03, 2009

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yulan_dancong_pouring

yulan_dancong_dryThe first thing I noticed when I opened the package of Canton Tea Co’s Yulan Dancong was that the leaves were exceptionally long, slender, and tinged with gold. They were only slightly curled and twisted, which emphasized their length and shape. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tea that was so attractive before it even came into contact with water. There wasn’t a single broken leaf in the package, which is really quite impressive considering the miles this tea has traveled since it was plucked: from Wu Dong Montain in the Guangdong region of Southern China to London, U.K. to Seattle, Washington, pausing at some unknown number of carrier stop-offs along the way.

Even before the kettle began to heat for transforming it into tea, I knew that this leaf would brew into something very special. The scent in the bag and the visible high quality of the leaf promised greatness, and I was not disappointed. Unlike many teas, I could smell the brew as soon as it began to steep, even from several feet away. The first sip confirmed its spectacular flavor and it just got better, revealing more of its character with each subsequent infusion. The taste of the rich golden yellow liquor reminded me of butter and gardenias, a flavor unlike any other oolongs that I have had. It was most delicious in its fourth infusion, which in my experience is highly unusual for a high quality oolong. On the fifth infusion the tea began to get a little drying in the mouth, but it still tasted good.

In my tastings I had detected an affinity between the scent of the tea and gardenias, but this tea is traditionally associated with the scent of magnolia flowers. In fact the literal translation of “yulan” is “magnolia.” This leads me to the idea that I should seek out closer contact with some magnolia trees, especially if they emit a smell as wonderful as this tea when they’re in flower! The rest of this tea’s name, “dancong” (alternately written “dan cong”) translates to “single tree” or “single bush.”

yulan_dancong_packageCanton Tea Co’s description of this tea:

Origin: Wu Dong Mountain, Chao Zhou, Guang Dong.
Harvest : Winter 2008
Varietal : Single Bush Yu Lan
Altitude : 400m ~ 600m
Certification : Small production direct from the farmer.

The leaves are a golden-green with a wrinkly surface and have a peach-like fragrance. The liquor is full-bodied with a thick texture and has a deliciously sweet, long-lasting aftertaste which means it is a good example of a high quality Yulan. The flavour develops with each brew saves should be infused several times.

Brewing tips: Brew at 85c for 2 to 3 minutes and infuse the leaves 3 or 4 times.

NB These fine, high grade, whole leaf teas yield different flavours with each successive infusion. The second is usually considered the best. This is why the best way to brew the tea is in a small pot or Piao I and to make several quick infusions.

yulan_dancong_steepingThis tea needs to be brewed with good water and in a vessel that gives the leaves plenty of room. Since they are not tightly curled into little balls they won’t expand as much as a tea like a green oolong, but they take up more room to begin with. You won’t want to constrain them. I used a porcelain gaiwan, which worked quite nicely. Even my glass gongfu pot would have cramped the leaves a little too much as they brewed.

A short time after I tasted the Yulan Dancong for the first time I had a curious discussion with my favorite local Chinese tea vendor. Upon entering her shop I asked if she had any Dancong. I figured I’d start less specific and inquire specifically about Yulan Dancong if there were options. If she had any tea of that exact variety I wanted to see if it tasted the same. Additionally, I wanted to try other teas from the same region since I had enjoyed the Yulan Dancong so much. She didn’t know what I was asking her for, which could be because I was using terms in the wrong language, Cantonese instead of Mandarin, or some other inability to communicate on my part. I had been assuming that dancong oolongs were widely known among tea people and they were always called the same thing. I even showed her the product page on the Canton Tea Co website on my phone. I explained that it was an oolong from Guang Dong (Canton) Province, which got us a little further, but she said that the only tea she had from that area was Phoenix Oolong (Feng Huang Dancong) and said that it was the best known and the only tea she knew from that area. That particular Feng Huang Dancong is one that I’ve tasted in her shop before (unless there is another tea she calls “Phoenix Oolong”), and I liked it, but was never impressed enough to buy any of it – And that’s in spite of a personal fixation with the Chinese Feng Huang, a creature that isn’t actually very much like the Phoenix of Western mythologies. Most of the teas in this particular tea shop are from more southwesterly parts of China, so Yulan Dancong could just be a type of tea that she doesn’t have suppliers for or interest in.

I haven’t determined how obscure this tea actually is, but I will probably order more of it from Canton Tea Co., just to see if it continues astonishing me with how wonderful it is. I also want to try brewing it in some different vessels to see what results I get. This tea rivals my all time favorite tea, which is a Spring Competition-Grade Ti Kuanyin Oolong, a very lightly oxidized green oolong from Anxi Province, which I usually buy some of every year.

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