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of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Dan Cong

The Age of Honey Orchid

If there’s one kind of oolong that has the most fantastical origin story, it’s Dan Cong. A name that translates as “single bush or tree”. The story of this tea has its roots in the last days of the Southern Song dynasty. Around 1279 C.E., Zhao Bing (or Song Di Bing)—the final child emperor—had fled from Mongols with his entourage to the Fenghuang (Phoenix Mountain) region of, what is now, Guangdong Province.

 

As legend has it, the local tea farmers fed the young emperor tea leaves as he wandered the countryside. These bushes were a hybrid off-shoot of Shui Xian, a known cultivated [likely] hailing from Wuyi Shan, all the way to the northeast. Allegedly, leaves revitalized the young emperor, staving off his exhaustion from the exile. Alas, the Mongols eventually did catch up to him, and he—and his guardian—jumped off a cliff.

Afterwards, the tea trees in the region—that hadn’t been delineated as cultivar specific—took on a new name; Song Zhong, further emphasizing its connection to the late Southern Song emperor. Hundreds of years after that, further refinement of tea processing in the region occurred. Aside from growing Song Zhong from seed, Fenghuang farmers also developed cultivated varieties based upon difference leaf fragrances. By isolating these, they bred from grafts to further duplicate those aromatic profiles.

In the late 1700s, Dan Cong was officially listed as an imperial tribute tea, and the Fenghuang region its forebears. If it wasn’t from the Phoenix Mountain, it wasn’t Dan Cong. To this day, that’s still the case. As to how many “fragrance cultivar” sub-categories there are? I . . . have no idea. But there’s one I see more than any other, probably because it’s the most ubiquitous.

Mi Lan Xiang (“Honey Orchid Fragrance”) Dan Cong.

Drinking Duck Shit

Sometimes, I think the ancient Chinese are trolling us from beyond their ancestral graves. How else do you explain an oolong that is – essentially – a poop joke?

poop troll

Yashi Xiang (Duck Shit Fragrance) Dan Cong is an oolong hailing from Guangdong province, China. I first learned of it from fellow weird tea friend, Greg “Norbu Tea” Glancy. (As in, he’s into weird teas, like me; not that he – himself – is weird . . . like me. I don’t think?) I spotted a conversation on Twitter that he was having with a client, and caught wind of the words “duck shit”. That made my inner eleven-year-old perk up.

Image owned by Steve Cribbs

Image owned by Steve Cribbs

He didn’t have any of the stuff, but I filed that bit of tea knowledge away for future use. Roughly two years later, I was contacted by Paul “Two Dog Tea Blog” Murray. The message read, “I should probably send you some tea, shouldn’t I?” (Or something to that effect.) I had no idea I was someone folks had to send tea to . . . but okay.

He was one of my favorite types of folks, a tea blogger that decided to make the plunge into selling tea. His focus: Unique pu-erhs and – if necessity dictated – odd oolongs and black teas.

The name of his op? White 2 Tea. I had no idea what that stood for, and I forgot to ask. All I knew was that he had a wicked sense of humor, and that he was based in Beijing, China. That and his branding kicked ass. Case in point: This was the label for his Yashi Xiang Dan Cong.

duck shit label

I want that duck (with turd) as a tea pet.

The funny thing about this “Duck Shit” oolong is that it didn’t look like duck shit. I even did an image search for comparative reference. (I will spare you – fine readers – of that visual experience.) Nope, the leaves were definitely not reminiscent of water fowl’s . . . uh . . . foul. I could’ve spared myself that delightful search if I’d just read the product notes.

duck shit loose

The yashi referred to the fragrance of the leaves, not the appearance of them. I also found this decidedly odd because – having been a precocious child once – I remember what duckscrement smelled like. Up close. This was not the same.

The leaves were large and spindly, resembling a large leaf Yunnan hong cha rather than an oolong. There were even gold-tipped bits to the leaves, which further confused the issue. The supposed fowl feces-inspired aroma was actually . . . floral and buttery. So, I’m chalking this naming scheme to being a rather ancient joke pulled on unsuspecting buyers. And bloggers with way too much time on their hands.

Measuring the leaves out for brewing was a chore, due to the average leaf size. Neither a teaspoon nor a tablespoon could cut it. In the end, I had to guesstimate a gaiwan’s brew of about a small half-handful, and then boiled the water. I utilized as close to a gongfu-style prep as possible.

duck shit brewed

All three infusions brewed up to a warm medium-amber liquor with the same floral aroma on the dry leaves. Whereas most Dan Congs exhibited a requisite tartness on the first sip, this had a crisp introduction, followed closely by a bit of astringency, and trailed off to a creamy/minerally nuanced tug-‘o-war. Further infusions deepened with notes of apricot . . . but still subtle. All steeps had a lingering sweetness on aftertaste. No notes of poo.

Not really sure how to end this, appropriately. As far as ancient poop jokes go, this was delicious. I was already a massive fan of Dan Congs, but now I was positively overflowing with good will toward them. All negative emotions flushed away.

Hehe . . . duck shit . . . okay, that’s funny.

Daffy disapproved

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