Fenghuang Dan Cong, also known as Phoenix oolong tea, is a great tea to be brewed in gongfu style using a gaiwan, and a Yixing teapot or in a western style teapot, which will give you an idea on how to brew this tea in a travel mug or thermos when you’re on the go!
Fenghuang Dan Cong is an oolong tea hailing from Guangdong Province in China. Fenghuang is the name of the specific region where this tea is from, and dan cong refers to the tea plant cultivar name. Fenghuang Dan Cong is an oolong with straight leaves, renowned for its complex and pronounced floral notes. I’m going to use Fenghuang Dan Cong – Rou Gui Xiang to demonstrate. But you can totally use the information in this video for any type of Dan Cong tea. As usual, all teas are different and people have different preferences, so no matter what tea you are brewing, always adjust according to your liking. You might wonder “Rou Gui?! … Isn’t that a yan cha?!” don’t worry, I’m going to explain that shortly. But first, let’s get some tea started!
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How to Brew Phoenix Oolong Tea in A Gaiwan
The gear you’ll need to brew Fenghuang dan cong in a gaiwan is simple, a gaiwan of course, a sharing pot, and a teacup. A filter is nice to have if you don’t like any leaves in your cup. The size of gaiwan I chose in this demonstration is 100ml.
I always warm up the vessel before brewing, then toss the leaf in. We’ll generously fill the gaiwan until it’s about 2/3 full of Fenghuang Dan Cong so that once the tea expands, the gaiwan will be nearly full of leaf. Mmmm…. I bet you can smell that distinctive aroma already!
As usual, I’ll give the tea a short rinse. This will encourage the leaves to loosen up and prepare them for our first infusion. If you are just getting into gongfu tea brewing and find this rinse, or washing step confusing, we have a video explaining why we rinse tea and which teas need this step, and whatnot.
Once the rinse water is out, we’ll dive right back in! The 1st infusion is going to be quick as the rinse infusion prepped the tea for the official brew.
As always, we’re using liquor color as our guide as to when this infusion is ready to come out. The more you do this, the more you’ll develop an instinct or an intuition about when the tea is ready. To brew straight-shaped oolong in gongfu tea style, oftentimes you’ll find that the initial few brews are pretty much flash brews, meaning pouring the tea out of the gaiwan as soon as you fill it up.
This tea is good for more infusions, just add 20-30 seconds for each successive infusion till you find the tea is worn out. I decided to brew 8 infusions for this round as I’ll be demonstrating more ways of brewing.
The Origin of Fenghuang Dan Cong
The Fenghuang Mountains is the where Fenghuang Dan Cong comes from. There are many mountains over a thousand meters high in the Fenghuang mountain range of which Wudong Mountain is one, the cherished birthplace of Fenghuang Dan Cong. The unique landscape, nutritious, rich soil, and the years-round misty fog hugging the top half of the mountain make Wudong Mountain the ideal terroir for exquisite tea. It has a one-of-a-kind taste that is unmistakable for those who are familiar with Wudong Dan Cong. It is also the home to the oldest Dan Cong trees that have ever been discovered. All of this make Wudong Dan Cong the undisputed king of Dan Cong.
The Aroma Type of Phoenix Oolong
The labeling or naming of Phoenix Oolong can be hard to understand. Dan Cong means single bush. In old times, the tea from a single bush was harvested, processed, and sold individually because every single tree had its unique flavor, and hence the term dan cong. Not until the last century did people start to propagate plants from cuttings. This development helped Dan Cong increase harvest quantity, making it possible for more people to enjoy this tea.
You often see Phoenix Oolong tea labels followed by its aroma, or in mandarin, xiang. For example, Mi lan xiang, honey orchid aroma or Ya shi xiang, duck shit aroma.
The ten traditional Fenghuang Dan Cong aroma types are:
- mi lan xiang
- zhi lan xiang
- huang zhi xiang
- gui hua xiang
- rou gui xiang
- yu lan xiang
- moli xiang
- xin ren xiang
- jiang mu xiang
- ye lai xiang
Of course, you don’t need to remember them. But it’s convenient to know that if you see some Chinese words followed by xiang, it means the aroma type of the dan cong. But don’t mistake this for scented or flavored tea, like blueberry tea or milk oolong. Fenghuang Dan Cong is not a flavored tea and it features a complexion of flavors and notes. Mi lan xiang or xin ren xiang only means the tea has more of, not only, that note. It’s usually most apparent in the first 3 infusions. The later infusions start to show similarities with different aroma types, as in the end, they are still all the same cultivar. Today’s tea is a rou gui xiang Dan Cong featuring characteristic cinnamon notes. It’s a very different taste from the rock tea Rou Gui. As a phoenix oolong, it still has the signature Dan Cong floral aroma with some sweetness, but with some spicy teasers in the early infusions.
The Legend of Phoenix Oolong
On the run from the Mongolian army, Bing, the last Emperor of Song, was so thirsty one day, but the supplies for the crew were running critically low. Still a child at that time, he cried and cried for water. Suddenly a phoenix flew by and dropped a beautiful branch in front of him and disappeared. He recognized the plant as tea and started to chew on the leaves to quench his thirst. Such a refreshing wonderful taste, such a good tea! He also shared the leaves with fellow officials and gave the seeds from the branch to the locals to grow. This is how Fenghuang Dan Cong tea started.
A fun legend indeed! It does reveal the deep connection between the Song Dynasty and Fenghuang Dan Cong tea. Even to this day, the Song Dynasty, a dynasty from almost a thousand years ago, still holds a special place in the locals’ hearts. Sometimes you might hear the word “song zhong” when talking about Phoenix Oolong. Song zhong means song dynasty heritage. Song zhong is the name, or say, a title given to the oldest Dan Cong tree to honor its old age, around 900 years old! Unfortunately, the tree died in the 1920s, however, the name was passed on to other “younger” survivors and the tea plants from their cuttings. Nowadays, song zhong is a common term that may or may not be actually related to those ancient trees.
As we always suggest enjoying and appraising the tea based on the merits revealed in your cup and don’t be overly concerned by what the label says.
How to Brew Fenghuang Dan Cong in a Yixing Teapot?
Let’s move on to how to brew phoenix oolong tea in a lot of peoples’ favorite vessel, okay, maybe it’s just my favorite vessel, the Yixing Teapot! Yixing teapots are more than just adorable little teapots, they provide fantastic heat retention and slightly enhance the flavor profile of tea. So you’ll need a Yixing teapot, some teacups, and a sharing pot. This Yixing teapot I’m using here is 120ml.
Again we are aiming to have the teapot just about full of leaf once it expands so I’ll use the same 2/3 full technique that I used for the gaiwan. Of course, it can be a little harder to tell given the dark interior of a teapot, but we’ll find a way to get close to our optimal leaf amount. We’re not making delicate pastries here, so there’s definitely margin for some error. Don’t worry about it too much, just get as close as you can.
Similar to gaiwan brewing, we’ll pretty much be flash-infusing until we notice the leaf starts to slow down its release of delicious goodness.
We ended up getting 8 infusions for this great tea.
How to Brew Phoenix Oolong Tea in a Western Teapot? (850ml)
For brewing in a western style teapot, we use our trusty cold brew vessel that we use exclusively for hot brewing, everyday! The tea stain on the walls are the proof. Just humor us and pretend this is a western teapot. If you are using this method for your travel mug brewing, you are on the right track. Just swig away when the tea’s cool enough!
Let’s toss the leaf into the teapot or the travel mug, and add the boiling water.
So we rinsed the tea in both gaiwan and Yixing teapot brewing, but we won’t be rinsing the leaf here.
The primary reason for rinsing the leaf before is to loosen the leaf up because they are whole leaves not cut-up pieces like teabags. If you prefer not to rinse the tea when doing gongfu brewing, your first infusion will simply be longer. Considering the gongfu brewing leaf/water ratio, that will pull out slightly more bitterness and astringency, so we recommend a rinse for those methods. For western teapot brewing, the leaf will obviously be sitting in the water the whole time, so we are tuning our leaf amount to minimize bitterness and astringency. Not to mention our conceptual teapot is a bit tricky to do the rinsing.
Once the liquor reaches our desired color the tea is ready! Another indicator is that the leaves have all sunk to the bottom. Pour some tea out and enjoy!