Dancong Oolong Glossary of Terms
Picking: Dāncōng literally means single bush. While this can be a bit misleading to initiates, the single bush refers to the multitude of tea cultivars in the region, and the dedicated picking, production, and isolation of each specific cultivar. Thus, while the Mìlánxiāng and Yāshǐxiāng cultivars may be germinating concurrently and in the same garden, the pickers and producers will usually spend one day picking and producing exclusively Mìlánxiāng, and the next day picking and producing exclusively Yāshǐxiāng (see below for explanations of these cultivars). This is different from other places like Lù'ān where they make the Guāpiàn green tea as well as Dòngtíng Mountain where they make the Bìluóchūn green tea, we saw in both of these regions a variety of heirloom cultivars all being picked and blended (pīnpèi - see below) in production to create a singe batch of final tea.
Maocha: Máochá literally means raw tea, but the meaning might be better understood as drinkable but not finished tea.
Maocha Production: To make máochá, the dāncōng oolong needs to be picked, sun withered, kill green, rolled, unblocked, and baked dry. A dāncōng máochá will be green, vegetal, and very fragrant (similar to Xuěpiàn or Qīngxiāng style dāncōngs - see below)
Huangpian: Huángpiàn literally means yellow leaf and is a reference to the old leaves that are picked and processed along with the fresh spring leaves. Since these leaves are from previous seasons or years, picked off the trees by absent-minded pickers, they have less water content than the fresh and tender spring leaves and do not process properly, often retaining their color and shape in the final tea.
Jiagong: Another key phase of the dāncōng oolong production method is the Jiāgōng or the sorting, wherein all the máochá is placed on a table and people look through all the dry leaves taking out any stems or huángpiàn tea leaves that have been included into the production. This is very time consuming and almost always done by human hands.
Roasting: Dāncōng oolong is traditionally charcoal roasted (tànbèi 炭焙) after it is produced in spring. After the máochá has been sorted, all the huángpiàn and stems removed, it is then placed in bamboo baskets set over a bed of ash-covered charcoal and allowed to roast for12-24 hours at a temperature of around 90-110 degrees celsius. After each roast, the tea is then taken off the charcoal and allowed to cool and rest for a few weeks before being roasted again. Most traditional dāncōng oolongs will be roasted three times, though some are never roasted and we even met a guy who claims to roast his tea 5 times.
- Light - These teas are often not even charcoal roasted, but rather baked in wood or gas powered ovens. We often call these teas Bouquet Style Dāncōng Oolongs, and this style is most commonly found in the Snowflake Dāncōng Oolong production.
- Medium - Even though the roast is medium, these teas are usually given a proper three roasts with a two week break given to allow the teas to rest in between each roast.
- Classic - considered more of a heavy roast on the spectrum of dāncōng oolongs, this classic roast is still lighter than the roasts given to their cousin oolongs up in the Wǔyí Mountains, the deeply roasted Yánchá, or rock oolongs.
- Classic - called in Chinese Nóngxiāng which means heavy fragrance, this is the iconic thrice roasted dāncōng oolongs most commonly seen in China and the Western markets.
- Bouquet - called in Chinese Qīngxiāng which means light fragrance, this is a modern take on dāncōng that often cuts out the charcoal roasting phase entirely, yielding a much more floral and vegetal fragrant forward tea akin to the neighboring green Ānxī Tiěguānyīn which is also taking off in popularity in this Qīngxiāng style.
- Snowflake - called in Chinese Xuěpiàn which means snowflake, is a winter harvest of dāncōng, although in this region there is no real winter and the harvest dates are late October to mid November. This tea is some of the more fragrant dāncōng we source every year, lending credence to the old saying 春水秋香 chūnshuǐ qiūxiāng meaning 'Spring water, Autumn Fragrance' which is a reference to the superior mouthfeel of spring-harvested teas and the incredible fragrance of autumn-harvested teas.
- Maocha - as discussed above, máochá is an incomplete and yet totally drinkable tea that is often sold wholesale to roasters and producers without access to tea trees or their own tea gardens.
Villages: We currently source our dāncōng oolong teas from four villages in the Phoenix Mountains about 60 km Northeast of the city Cháozhōu.
- Wudong - Wūdōng is the origin point of all Phoenix Mountain Dāncōng Oolong teas, this is the Core Production region (the héxīnqū 核心区) and as a result produces some of the highest quality tea from some of the oldest trees at some of the highest prices.
- Da'an - Just a little further North along the slopes of the Wūdōng Mountain is the village of Dà'ān. Here is the 1000 mǔ (about 166 acres) of Old Tea Trees (or lǎocóng 老丛) this area has a lot of dāncōng mother bushes and is quickly becoming a hotspot for great tea rivaling Wūdōng village itself.
- Zhuliu - Down the slopes of Wūdōng mountain before the steep drop off by the water reservoir is the village of bamboos and willows the zhúliǔcūn. The elevation of this village is around 900 meters and is considered mid-high mountain for the region. The trees here are over two meters tall and mostly over 50 or 80 years old.
- Fenghuang - the fènghuángcūn or Phoenix Village, is the namesake for all Phoenix Dāncōng oolongs. While not a lot of tea is grown in the village, it is surrounded by mountains upon which new tea gardens have been planted in the past 30 or 40 years. These teas are grown at around 500 meters making them mid-low elevation teas. They are often also much smaller, reaching only to about the chest and rarely over one's head.
- Mushu - Mǔshù means mother bush or mother tree, and in the Phoenix Mountains refers to the oldest known trees of a specific cultivar. Teas from true mother bushes are almost impossible to buy, not only are they second-mortgage expensive, their productions are also exclusively sold to old customers and close friends.
- Danzhu - Dānzhū means single tree, this term is used for dāncōng as well as with Yúnnán Pǔ'ěr. This term single tree is often what people new to dāncōng assume dāncōng is, however a Dānzhū Dāncōng is relatively rare and difficult to find on the market. These teas are often only made from older trees (over 100 years old and large enough to supply a few KG of tea every year).
- Pinpei - Pīnpèi means blended and blended productions of white tea, Pǔ'ěr tea, and oolong tea, are very common in the tea world. In Pǔ'ěr a blend can help reduce cost, accent flavors, and improve drinkability of pressed teas, in Fuding, blended teas are often a means to augment good aged tea with less expensive younger browned teas. In the Phoenix mountains, blending is a controlled way to create high quality of batches from old trees that are not big enough to create Dānzhū or single tree productions. Thus, we have a few Wūdōng teas that are pīnpèi of 3 or 4 third generation tea trees that are over 100 years old, but don't yield very much tea on their own each year.
- Laocong - in the oolong world, you rarely see the term gǔshù (ancient tree), instead you see lǎocóng (old bush). Like gǔshù this is a loose term without a lot of fixed criteria, one farmer might consider 100+ year bushes to be lǎocóng, another might consider his inherited bushes that are 50+ years old to be lǎocóng. Note here that trees in this region rarely live to be over 200 years old, likely due to the different tea varietal and the different climate from the over 200+ year old tea trees one can often find in Yunnan.
- Xiaoshu - this term means little tree, and is what we refer to new tea bushes planted in the past 20 years, as they often don't rise above one's waist.
Cultivars - Since Dancong Oolong as over 200 different cultivars, each boasting a unique flavor profile, shape of leaf and easily distinguishable tree, we will not list every cultivar, but begin building out our favorites. Note, these classifications and selective cloning of certain mother bushes only arose around the Tongzhi and Guangxu eras of the Qing Dynasty (around 1875 - 1908).