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Tea Review: Royal Phoenix Oolong

June 20, 2007


Royal Phoenix Oolong & Buddha Hand Teapot

Tao of Tea’s description of Royal Phoenix Oolong (Fenghuang Dancong):

origin: Guangdong Province, China

In some areas of the Phoenix Mountains in Guangdong province, China, there are wild tea plants that remain a source for some of the best oolong teas in the world. Leaves from these old tea trees are prized for the flavor and full body. Making Royal Phoenix oolong invloves precise rolling and baking techniques to fully develop a toasty texture, fragrant aroma and taste similar to nectarines and peaches.

I have a sentimental, but not undeserved, appreciation of this particular Royal Phoenix Oolong (feng huang oolong). It was one of the first teas that we ever prepared and served ourselves at home using the Gongfu method and it is the tea that has been consigned for use in the very extraordinary Buddha hand yixing teapot pictured above, whose origins and history are unknown to me, but would probably be fascinating if they could be ascertained. The first canister of this tea was purchased at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, which is a great little hidden bit of scholarly China, nestled almost undetectably inside the bustling city of Portland, a truly wondrous place to visit. The teahouse there, pictured in the photograph below, is run by the Tao of Tea people and it’s a good place. Unrelated to that, I also have a far-flung and multi-faceted attachment to the fenghuang, the Chinese Vermilion Bird, often called a Chinese Phoenix. There are symbolic and historical distinctions that differentiate the mythical bird from the often mis-paralleled Phoenix as described in Western countries, but the laziness of language and translation often neglect the distinction, favoring the conclusion of “same” in order to simplify the regional specificity of mythology. All of that aside, it’s likely that I would still find this particular tea lovely purely on its own merits without any of the attachments and historical references that it holds for me.

Teahouse at the Portland Chinese Classical Garden

Here is my review, laid out by infusion:

infusion #1: Sweet earthy aroma, very pale liquor. Very nice and subtle flavor. Not at all floral. More of a traditional tea flavor than some other oolongs. Lingering astringency.

infusion #2: Still very pale and very flavorful. Very satisfying mouthfeel. Bright smelling, almost citrusy. (I did not taste Tao of Tea’s reminiscence of peaches or nectarines, but felt it to be more like oranges and lemons.)

infusion #3: More interesting aroma. Taste is reminiscent of orange flower water. Mouthfeel of really good orange liquer or orange-peel infused vodka. Almost a bit like Lady Grey.

infusion #4: Aroma is more lemony than orange. Lighter in flavor. If Earl Grey were subtle and a Chinese oolong it would taste like this.

infusion #5: A little more bite and even more lemony. Very dry and smells acidic.

The leaves never fully unfurled in the pot, and they started out in a very different configuration from most other oolongs I have had. The very narrow shaped leaves are rolled only lengthwise, and not very tightly. It is a very pleasant and reliable tea, one that will no doubt remain a favorite.

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