Song Zhong - 2011 Spring Fenghuang Oolong Tea
“Song Zhong” is an oolong tea produced from a group of aged tea trees growing in the Fenghuang (Phoenix) mountains of Chaozhou Prefecture in Guangdong Province. This batch of Song Zhong was picked on April 1-4 (the three days before the Qing Ming festival), 2011 from older growth trees that are somewhere between 200 and 300 years old. It was harvested on the mid-elevation slopes of the hills outside Wudong village on the northeast side of Wudong Mountain, where the altitude is approximately 900 meters (2,950 ft) above sea level.
The term “Song Zhong” can be quite confusing if you get down to the specific implications the name carries. According to one viewpoint, the name “Song Zhong” can only refer to tea produced from a particular tree on Wudong mountain that has been alive and producing tea since the Song Dynasty, sometime between 960 and 1279 CE (AD). In another, more common use of the term, Song Zhong refers to the “Song Zhong” we are offering here, which is produced from aged Fenghuang area Shui Xian varietal trees. I have also read that some people refer to the entire family of Fenghuang oolong as Song Zhong, since the style of tea produced here originated during the Song Dynasty. Confused? Me too. There really isn’t a “correct” use of the term, but it is important to note that we are not claiming to sell tea from the original 900 year old Song Zhong tea tree on Wudong Mountain.
All the naming conventions & technicalities aside, this is an amazing tea to drink. When infused, this tea produces a beautifully clear amber cup with a sweet floral aroma, and the leaves don’t tend to unfurl very much, which I am told is an indication that they come from older trees. It has a very complex flavor profile fairly similar to a “Mi Lan Xiang” (Honey Orchid Fragrance) Fenghuang oolong. The most striking difference between this Song Zhong and a more commercial Mi Lan is the awesomely penetrating, lingering aftertaste and its lack of the bitterness and astringency usually present in the teas produced from lower elevation, younger trees. Like a good Mi Lan, it definitely has sweet, woody, honey, floral and fruit flavors and aromas, but they are balanced beautifully against a background of greenish, old tree tea taste. The resulting infusion is a beautifully balanced cup with low astringency, high complexity, and an aftertaste that doesn’t seem to quit.
To steep this tea, I would really only recommend steeping it Gong Fu style using a gaiwan or Yixing type teapot. When steeped in a more Western manner, this tea’s subtleties tend to be overshadowed by the more assertive flavors that are in the leaves, although the aroma is still pretty awesome. My preference is to use 6-7 grams of leaf in a 75-100 ml gaiwan, water at about 200 F or a little lower, a flash rinse, and a 15 second first steep. Gradually increase the steeping time in subsequent infusions. If the infusion is too strong, decrease the steeping time and temperature, or if the infusion is too mild, try increasing the steeping time by a few seconds or upping the steeping temperature.
“Dan Cong” Terminology Explanation and Disclaimer:
Fenghuang/Phoenix mountain oolongs are generally marketed as Dan Cong oolongs both in China and in the West, although “Dan Cong” is somewhat of a loaded term in the Chinese tea industry. Dan Cong means “single bush” or “single tree” and refers to the ideal that true “Dan Cong” should only come from a single bush/tree. A common misconception is that these trees actually have a single tree trunk, but, in reality, they usually have the multiple trunk structure of a more standard tea bush. Most tea sold in the West as “Dan Cong” is probably (but not always) blended from many different bushes, so the term causes a lot of debate and disagreement among purists. Realistically, most truly single bush Dan Cong oolongs are not going to be available in any quantity that justifies the effort and expense of commercial marketing outside of their home area or village, so more commercial mass productions are generally sold as “Dan Cong” both in China and in the West.
Unless otherwise specified, the “Dan Cong” teas sold on this site are not single bush productions, so, when I elect to use the term “Dan Cong” in a product description, I am technically using it incorrectly to refer to teas from the Fenghuang/Phoenix Mountain region in general. I realize this is a very specific distinction to draw, but I feel that it is very important to be completely transparent about the tea we deal with.