Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang Oolong (单枞蜜兰香), known as Honey Orchid Fragrance Phoenix Oolong, is an excellent example of a Dan Cong Oolong – a famous style of tea from Guangdong Province in Southern China. This is a traditional Mi Lan Xiang oolong that has a pronounced floral and honey aroma and taste, complete with a complex aftertaste that is mineral and lightly roasted. It is grown in the Phoenix Mountain area near Chaozhou City (Phoenix Town) in Guangdong Province at an altitude of about 1,000-1,500 metres on the rocks of Wudong Mountain. Picked from semi-wild trees of the Shui Xian cultivar that are about 30 years old, the current batch is from 3 March 2023 harvest.
Dan Cong Oolongs are noted for their ability to imitate various flavours, be it flowers or fruits. This is a natural characteristic developed through selecting specific tea trees and applying specific processing techniques. The aroma and taste differences of Dan Cong Oolongs are mostly introduced during the finishing process of each tea. The skills of the tea master are therefore paramount in how each batch of tea turns out. This Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong for example is noted for its ‘Honey Orchid’ aroma and flavour.
Dan Cong (单枞) is the general name that is used to refer to oolongs that come from Guangdong and specifically from Phoenix Mountain. Dan Cong literally means ‘single bush’ as traditionally these oolongs were all picked only from single trees. Each batch would be picked from only one tree and sold as such, without mixing of leaves from different trees, in order to preserve the unique flavour and experience of each specific tree. Of course while it is possible to still find teas that really are ‘single bush’, the reality is that they are extremely rare and expensive. However tea masters are still able to achieve a specific taste even with mixing of the leaves from different trees through skilful traditional tea processing techniques.
Many types of Dan Cong teas have been developed, all with unique characteristics and flavours. Mi Lan Xiang is probably amongst the most famous and recognised types. Now with the changing of processing techniques the term Dan Cong has become more of a generic term to cover all Phoenix Mountain (Fenghuang Shan 凤凰山) and sometimes other Guangdong Oolongs. Phoenix oolongs are very varied in style and flavour but are often sold just as ‘Phoenix Mountain Oolong’ or ‘Phoenix Dan Cong’ often not specifying the exact type of Dan Cong or where it is from. Make sure to look out for which particular Dan Cong you are buying as they all have varying characteristics and styles depending on where and how they are grown and processed.
The semi-wild tea trees that are used to produce this tea are Fenghuang Shuixian ‘Water Lily’ (凤凰水仙) cultivar bushes. Shui Xian is also known as ‘narcissus’ or ‘water sprite’. The Shui Xian cultivar is present both around Fenghuang Shan (凤凰山) in Guangdong Province and in Wuyi Shan (武夷山) in Fujian Province and in both locations it is responsible for producing some of the best and most enigmatic oolong teas in the world. There is some debate as to whether Shui Xian originated in Guangdong or in Fujian, however the terroir greatly affects the final outcome with each region producing quite distinctive teas. The semi-wild nature of the trees means that they are left to grown naturally on rocky mountainsides. The age of the trees, the natural biodiverse growing conditions and rocky terrain attribute to slower leaf growth and higher concentration of flavour. The trees are able to absorb more nutrients concentrating these in the leaves and resulting in a powerful and flavoursome tea.
The dark and twisted dry leaves of this Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang Oolong produce a medium golden liquor. The aroma is quite floral, with a lightly baked edge. The taste of this tea is quite exceptional and shows off the true nature of a Dan Cong oolong. The main profile is that of wild honey, with notes of exotic flowers and fruits. The aftertaste is complex and lasting, with a lightly roasted touch. There is a mineral edge to the aftertaste that can be attributed to the semi-wild nature of the trees as well as their age. This tea is good to drink straight away but would also benefit from resting for up to 1-2 years to mellow and develop the flavours.
This Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang Oolong can stand many infusions. Infuse it the western way in a tea pot at 90°C for 3 minutes 3+ times. If you are finding that your tea is turning out a little too astringent, you can reduce the brewing time or temperature until you reach your preferred taste. This tea would particularly benefit from traditional gongfu style brewing, yielding a lot more infusions, each bursting with flavour. It is a fascinating way of seeing how the tea changes with each infusion.