Canton Tea Club Week 3: Xing Ren Dan Cong
Tea lover and writer Geoffrey Norman kindly agreed to write a history of his personal love affair with one of the most sought-after teas in the world: Dan Cong. This week you can taste one of his favourites and see for yourself why these teas are called “The Champagne of Oolong”.
Geoffrey: Early on in my hesitant exploration of oolongs, the name “Dan Cong” sometimes came up. I always thought it was pronounced “Dan Kong”, and I was bombarded with images of a nonexistent kung fu film – “Danny Cong: Warrior of Justice”. Or something. A fellow tea nerd corrected my mispronunciation; it was supposed to sound like “Dan Song”.
“Dan Cong” literally translates to “single trunk” or “single bush”, usually a reference to its single origin roots. There is some confusion regarding this, since true single origin Dan Cong is very hard to come by – like Da Hong Pao from one of the original Red Robe trees. When one thinks of Dan Cong, oolong tea comes to mind. It just so happens, though, that the first Dan Cong I ever tried was a black tea. I have no idea if it was from the same “single origin” as the oolong, but I liked it quite a bit.
A year or so would go by before another Dan Cong graced my cup. Again, this was not a typical offering. This time around, it was an aged oolong – a ten-year-old Song Zhong Dan Cong. It was *THE* perfect oolong – tart where it had to be, sweet where it wanted to be, and luscious where it ought to be. Going for an aged Dan Cong over a young ‘un was like test-driving a Ferrari before a Ford Focus. I had no idea if I wanted to step back and try a more youthful offering.
Fast-forward another year or so, and Canton Tea sent me two new Dan Congs they’d added to their arsenal. Keep in mind that ALL of my prior Dan Cong experiences up to this point were through Canton – the black, the aged, all of it. I had to accept that my Dan Cong destiny was intertwined with them. The first was a Jiang Hua (Ginger Flower) Dan Cong, made from up-to-60-year-old trees – the leaves of which were only harvested once a year. The second was a Xing Ren (Almond), plucked from 80-year-old trees. Both were from separate tea plant varietals, and both were acquired from the same tea farmer in Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China.
The first on the docket was the Jiang Hua. They weren’t kidding when they said it was a floral and buttery oolong. On a blind taste-test, I would’ve thought this was a Taiwanese varietal. It was very Li Shan-ish in some respects, minus the sweetness. Butter and flowers dominated the profile. In short, enthusiastic approval from me.
The Xing Ren – in my opinion – differed with the Jiang Hua in both delivery and excellence. This was what I thought of when the word “Dan Cong” came to mind. The flavor was tart, nutty, sweet, and with just a smidge of butter on the fringe. It was the closest in character to the Song Zhong I coveted so lustfully.
Now came the time to finally write about them. For some reason, I put off the endeavor for weeks. In that span, I found another Dan Cong completely by accident. Yet again, it was a Canton Tea offering – the Ba Xian. To put it bluntly, it’s been my go-to iced tea for a number of days now. There’s just no escaping it. Dan Cong has me dancing to its song…like a tea-picking monkey.