Selected Summaries From Huang Baizi’s “Phoenix Dancong Tea”

Fragrance

Bush Yield

Leaf Traits

Growth Traits

Finished Tea

Xiongdi

10 Jin

(Annual)

Glossy green color, flat body, shallow teeth.

Earlier budding, few flowers, high fruiting rate, fuzz-free buds.

Oily, blackish brown leaves, heavy mouthfeel.

Osmanthus

5.5 Jin

(Annual)

 

Deep green, oval shape, medium durability.

Fuzz-free buds,  few flowers, low fruiting rate, robust.

Osmanthus aroma,

Strong huigan,

orange-yellow liquor.

Gardenia

4-17.8

(Spring)

Glossy green, oval, strong durability.

Earlier budding, fuzz-free buds, no fruit or flowers.

Oily, strong huigan, golden liquor.

Ginger Lily

1.3-3 Jin

(Spring)

Glossy green color, flat body, shallow teeth.

Earliest budding, fuzzy buds, few flowers, low fruiting rate.

Light yellow leaves, Stimulating body feel, good for multiple steepings.

Juduozai

6 Jin

(Annual)

Long teeth, folded body, light venation.

Fuzzy buds, earlier budding, few flowers, high fruiting rate.

Oily mouthfeel, blackish-brown leaves, almond aroma.

 

Name Origin

Xiongdi (兄弟)

This tea is named after the Chinese phrase for brothers, as the two original source trees were almost identical in shape, and grew in close proximity, crossing branches as if two brothers at play.

Osmanthus (桂花)

Unlike black teas in Fujian and Guangdong that add osmanthus flowers or flavor extract during the baking process, Dancong’s Osmanthus Fragrance gets its name for the natural aroma of the finished tea.

Gardenia (黄栀)

Orginially named in 1956 by the Wudong Cooperative for the fragrance of the finished tea, there are now several corruptions of this name, including (黄枝 and 黄支) both of which can still be found in local markets. It was also renamed during the Great Leap Forward to big harvest tea (大丰茶)due to its impressive yields and was  further renamed to “the East is Red,” during the Cultural Revolution.

Ginger Lily (姜花)

Originally called Jiangmu (姜母) and later called also called Tiantong (通天), Ginger Flower gets its name from the sweet yet subtly spicy flavor of the finished tea. 

Juduozai (锯剁仔)

This tea got its name for the resemblance of the leafs to a small iron handsaw. It is considered to be part of the “almond scented” sub-category of Dancongs and is held by some to not be meaningfully different from the standard almond fragrance varietal. 

Comment on the Anarchy of Dancong Tea Names

Unlike most Chinese teas, Dancong production is hyper-localized and carries on a dominant tradition of grafting rather than vegetative cultivation which makes it possible to trace tea trees in most Dancong plots back to a specific “mother bushes.” This is what has allowed an extreme diversity of individual varietals, all with distinctly identifiable characteristics, to exist within a single township of a single county, Chaoan County’s Phoenix Township. That being said, linguistic and economic factors have guaranteed that the clear identification of these varietals will remain confused for the time being.

The dialect spoken in Chaozhou, sometimes called Teochew internationally, was formed from northern immigrants centuries ago. The prolonged isolation that the Teochew people faced in their new home allowed a unique vocabulary, grammar, and intonation system to form that is difficult to understand both to Cantonese and Mandarin speakers. This alone has caused much of  the widespread corruption of tea names when the local, seldom written dialect is being translated into a Mandarin trade names. Characters with similar meaning or pronunciation are often substituted. Hidden Cave (AKA Aokuhou/Tuofuhou/Aofuhou) in an extreme example of this. Further English translation only exacerbates the confusion that these corruptions can cause.

At the same time, atomization of production makes of standardization difficult to implement. Dancong production remains notably stuck at the household level. The new wave of co-operativization that has swept green tea producers in many Chinese provinces has made less inroads in Chaozhou. This means that individual households, processing workshops, and tea houses have made their own sales networks independently. Why would such a market actor change the name of a tea that sells well and is familiar to their customers? This true for both corruptions and legacy names like the East is Red. Further complications also come from the decentralized nature of Dancong breeding and cloning that has been evolving since the beginning of de-collectivization in 1980. Vegetative cultivation and selective breeding have made for diversity within the earlier established varietals, which even if renamed by the breeder may ultimately be marketed under the banner of a more familiar source varietal.

Integrated large scale production and significant government intervention will be required to end the present anarchy of Dancong varietal names.


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