Dan Cong Tea Types Classification
Over the past decades, farmers in Guangdong’s Phoenix mountain have developed many styles of oolong tea. All teas produced in this region are referred to as ‘Dan Cong’ tea. Yet, today, the amount of different teas that come from area is among the most diverse, if not, the most diverse of any tea region in the world. And with every tea that is produced, they come with fancy names and terms attached.
Even for a tea enthusiasts it's easy to get completely lost in a sea of names. During the first year of our visit to this region, we travelled through many the villages in the area, we started noting down all the names and terms. We thought, eventually we’ll catch all the names, but the opposite was true. The list kept getting longer!
Eventually, we found out that some names are relevant and may reveal a unique aspect of the individual tea, while others are just marketing names, made up to catch your attention. There were also terms that were used locally, but not universally agreed upon by all villages in the area. Therefore, sometimes different terms could mean the same thing.
We’re sure that all these Dan Cong tea names have confused some of you, and therefore we attempt to discuss the most common terms in this article.
Classification by Cultivars
All Dan Cong teas are made using tea leaves from the ‘Shui Xian’ cultivar. However, there are hundreds of sub-cultivars developed after many generations of farming, and even the local farmers aren’t aware of all of them.
Local farmers sometimes develop their own cultivars and come up with their own names. As you can imagine, that doesn’t make it worthy to be included in some sort of official list (and there isn't).
Due to the ambiguity of the types of cultivars, this is hardly used as an important dimension to classify Dan Cong teas. Moreover, often times, what is called are ‘sub-cultivar’ may just mean a small iteration to the original Shui Xian cultivar.
Classification by Tea Bush Shape
Dan Cong are sometimes also named after the shape of the tea bushes.
- Qiao Mu / Da Cong (Large Bush Arbor Tea): the tree is tall, large and flourishing.
- Wang Tian Tea (Looking Up Tea): the height of the plant is around 8 meters, looks like it stands in the middle of many short tea bushes and it ‘looks up to the sky’.
- Tuan Shu (Circle Tree): the tree branches grow out like a big round circle.
- Chicken Cage: the tree looks like a cage for chickens in a farmhouse.
- Girl with Umbrella: the tree resembles girl holding a green umbrella
- Large Grass Shed: the tree grows like a shed that the farmer uses to stock grass for the cattle.
In our opinion, this way of naming is rather confusing and rather irrelevant. There’s no proof that the shape of the bush affects the flavor and aroma in any way. Thus, we see it as an attempt for tea companies to make their teas stand out from the crowd.
Dan Cong teas are also often marketed based on leaf shape. Dan Cong teas may consist of tea leaves that may resemble grapefruit leaves (You Ye), persimmon leaves (Shi Ye), bayberry leaves (Yang Mei Ye) etc.
Under this classification, tea leaves are divided into ‘Bai Ye’ (‘White Leaves’, actually light green or yellow-green) and ‘Wu Ye’ (‘Dark Leaves’, the actual leaf color is dark green).
This is definitely relevant as ‘Bai Ye’ and ‘Wu Ye’ often indicate a different level of oxidation that significantly affect the flavor of tea. Therefore, these are relevant terms to remember.
The leaf color classification is often divided into large and small leaf sizes: ‘Da Wu Ye’ (Big Dark Leaves), ‘Wu Ye Zi’ (Baby Dark Leaves), ‘Da Bai Ye’ (Big White Leaves), and ‘Bai Ye Zi’ (Baby White Leaves).
Size of the leaves do affect the taste. Thus, we find this distinction a relevant one.
Appearance of Dry Tea Leaves
‘Da Gu Gang’ (Big Bone Red), ‘Da Hu Qi ‘(shape like a leech with small ends), ‘Si Xian Cha’ (Silk Tea), Noodle Tea, Glue Paper Wings (like the wings of a dragonfly, opened up and thin).
Naming teas based on their origin isn’t a surprising one. It’s something we also see in other tea categories. For example in the green tea category we have the ‘West Lake Dragon Well green tea’ or ‘Yellow Mountain Mao Feng’. Classification based on origin is less popular within the Dan Cong category of oolong teas though. This may be due to the proximity of the locations resulting in less meaningful differences in flavor.
You may not completely agree with this. After all, for West Lake Dragon Well teas, there's a distinction between a Dragon Well from 'Mei Jia Wu' or 'Shi Feng', which are just a few miles away. Yet, with oolong tea, the processing is a much bigger factor in the end result, relative to green teas.
Below a few examples naming by origin:
- ‘Wudong’ Dan Cong (Dan Cong from Wudong Village)
- ‘Shitou’ Huang Zhi Xiang
- ‘Zhongping’ Zhi Lan
- ‘Chengtou’ Zhi Lan
Historical Events, Stories, Legends
In a few cases we’ve heard of tea names that are related to certain events, legends, or just simple stories:
- ‘Dong Fang Hong’ (Oriental Red) refers to the Cultural Revolution period.
- ‘Zong Suo Xie’ refers to a specific Dan Cong legend.
- ‘Ba Xian Guo Hai’ (Eight immortals crossing the sea)
- 'Ya Shi Xiang' (Duck shit tea)
- 'Lao Xian Weng' (Old Fairy)
Same names and stories are fun to know, but they don't necessarily tell you much about the tea flavor.
Classification by Tea Aroma
At last, the most versatile classification method is to categorize Dan Cong teas by their (flower) aroma type. This is also the most widely accepted method in China.
The other classification methods we discussed above, may be used only in certain local villages. As every village has its own terms, this would be too confusing. That’s why the Dancong tea types commonly found on the market are usually named according to the aroma types. Below the 10 most common aroma types:
- Huang Zhi Xiang: yellow gardenia aroma
- Zhi Lan Xiang: orchid aroma
- Gui Hua Xiang: osmanthus aroma
- Xing Ren Xiang: almond fragrance.
- Mi Lan Xian: honey-orchid aroma (taste like sweet potato to some people)
- Ye Lai Xiang: tuberose aroma
- Jiang Hua Xiang: ginger flower aroma fragrance (also known as "Tong Tian Xiang", meaning intense aroma that could reach the sky.)
- Rou Gui Xiang: cinnamon aroma
- Mo Li Xiang: jasmine aroma
- Yu Lan Xiang: magnolia aroma
The above aroma types may also be used by other tea types or in other regions. For example ‘Rou Gui’ is also an aroma type for oolong teas from Wuyishan, Fujian.
The above aroma’s are a result of unique leaf and soil characteristics combined with the variations in processing methods applied. So there are no ingredients added to create these styles of Dan Cong.
As you can see, figuring out all Dan cong types is complicated. That’s partially because Fenghuang Dancong is an oolong tea. With oolong’s unique production process, even the same tea tree could produce teas with different aromas due to the differences in picking, processing and storage.
And even if one type of Dan Cong is classified by one certain aroma, it often contains a variety of other aromas too, which could resemble other aromas of fruits, nuts, honey, other flowers and so on.
If you’re a tea lover, looking for an adventure. Trying all the different types of Dan Cong is a great way to do just that! It’s the diversity that makes the Dan Cong category so interesting to explore.