Finding Your Dancong Producer
Dancong tea is unique in China primarily for its variety. Over 100 botanically distinct varietals are cultivated and marketed, with producers hungry to establish new varietals every year. Songzhong, Baxian, Milanxiang, Yashixiang, and Xiongdi Tea have been established names for generations. Careful cloning has helped to make these OG Dancong teas distinct in taste and aroma decade after decade, while cross-pollination, both intentional and accidental, has allowed for an endless number of combinations to spawn.
Diversity in price is also quite strong between Dancong teas. There is Dancong available for just 60 RMB per Jin and there is also Dancong that can top 3000 RMB per Jin. In general, a higher elevation and an earlier picking time will merit a higher price. Aged Dancong or Dancong picked from older trees, “wild” bushes, or Mother Trees are all among the most prized. Varietals themselves also can dictate price, with the hardy high yield Dawuye preferred by lower mountain producers fetching a much lower price than the more boutique-oriented varietals like The East is Red. Finally, the quality and extent of processing itself can determine a Dancong tea’s final price. Milanxiang is cultivated widely, but the price varies widely. It can be sold as an unfinished Maocha, finished simple Chengcha, or a charcoal re-roasted luxury good. Each added bit of production contributes to a greater sum of value.
Producers themselves are less diverse in how they organize and differentiate themselves. Making up around 1/3 of Guangdong Province’s 258,000 tea farmers, Dancong producers are some of the most prolific in Southern China despite being largely confined to a handful of townships in Chazhou City’s Chaoan District. In the Phoenix Township, collective tea farms are non-existent and cooperatives are far scarcer than they are in Central and Southwest China. There are however a handful of producers that have carried on all-in-one small household picking and processing since the Qing Dynasty. At the same time, there are also a larger number of local grain farmers that have entered tea production since the 1970’s, as well as a fair number of outside companies that have entered the market since the 1990’s. Cultivation and processing remains dominated by small and medium-sized households working with no more than 50 Mu of tea trees and a small workshop. These plots and workshops together employ some 50,000 migrant laborers throughout the annual 40+ day Spring Season. Marketing, however, has been increasingly captured by larger agribusinesses centered in Chaozhou, Shantou, Guangzhou, and Xiamen. Today, Ganlu Dashi, Chuanqihui, Binjie, and Dancong Wangzi are some of the big mass market brands that have established themselves in the past two decades. We carry no tea from none of these Taobao staples.
These three producers were the few we had chosen from the hundreds of local stores and workshops after visits in 2017, 18, and 19. From them, virtually every major varietal grown in the central growing area can be procured.
Working with around 60 Mu of high altitude tea trees, some of which are more than one hundred years old, Master Wei is uniquely able to produce and process high value Dancong teas. Although he does also produce a certain amount of new growth Dawuye and Milanxiang for resale, his more boutique Baxian, East is Red, Gardenia varietals are all solid of examples of what hand roasted Dancong tea can and should be. Wei was the first Dancong producer we ever decided to work with and we hope to support his consistent and reliable work more in the future.
With a total of 90 Mu of low mountain tea fields spread between three households, the Lin Family shares a workshop only a few minutes drive from the Phoenix township. Orginally grain farmers for whom tea was a sideline industry, their geographic location now makes them naturally well suited to produce unfinished Maocha for town-based factories and high yielding but inexpensive teas like Dawuye for the general mid-market consumer. While far from organic, the sample box we source from their workshop is a perfect example of what happens when low cost meets solid craftsmanship. Their Maocha will continue to have a deserved and permanent position in our Dancong line up.
Huiwei is not a single master or cluster of households. At it’s core, it is one enterprising woman, Mrs. Chen, with a “mother bush” and tea store in her possession, as well as a strong partnership with the neighboring Wu household. The Wu’s little workshop and several co-owned tea fields gives Mrs. Chen direct access to a wide variety of quality mid mountain teas. Virtually every tea we’ve ever needed she has had on tap. Yashixiang and Xiongdi tea were some of the flagship teas we sourced from her, but the Thunderstuck, Ginger Lily, and Osmanthus fragrances are now all established parts of our line up.
Fresh Faces -
We’ve continued the search for quality Dancong teas. These two producers were acquainted with us during Derek’s stint living in Chaozhou. Each producer represents different directions taken by long established tea farmers.
With their 30 Mu of tea fields, The Xie Family has continued small household production in a scale and style that is going extinct in Chaozhou. Although their property is a distance away from the most central growing area, the plot is still at an altitude that straddles the boundary between the low and mid mountain range. With an attention to detail that has been passed down from details, classic Dancong teas like Baxian and Milanxiang have been perfected despite retaining a price point that has not kept up with the times. We are excited to work more with the Xie Family in the future.
A ninth generation Dancong producer himself, Liao Xulin is just as much an heir to local traditions as the Xie or Wei Families. Unlike them however, he is also excited to reach younger generations of tea drinkers. Guangdong’s fastest growing category of tea is black tea, and Liao is getting in on the action with his Dancong Black. This new product of his is more mature than any other black tea we’ve seen emerge from the garage shops of Chaozhou. We hope to support more of his new concepts in the years to come.