The first time I encountered Dancong Style Oolongs was at the most posh tea house in Qingdao, China. This was the kind of place that you go to be seen- When you go in the massive double doors carved from solid walnut, you are greeted by an entire limestone stalactite formation meticulously transported from a cave in Yunnan to be the waterfall feature here. On the left is a Ming Dynasty fishing boat turned into a tea pavilion on the indoor pond.
Even though I was there on grant money to do research on tea culture, from the humble farms of Laoshan to the high-brow teahouses like this, I felt humbled and asked for a table in the least fancy-looking part of the building. When the menu came, it was a rolled string of bamboo strips with the tea names carved in wood. Starting my research in a city obsessed with Laoshan green tea, and Tieguanyin, I had never before come across Dancong. I saw it on the menu and ordered.
It was prepared for me in traditional Southern China gongfu ceremony with gaiwan. The taste kept me sitting for hours getting the tea re-steeped. They were probably wondering when I would head out or order a different tea, but the taste was so intriguing.
I found Dancong to be elusive, a shapeshifter just slightly out of reach. My tea vocabulary was smaller then, but the apple notes and the texture were wonderful. After that, I asked all around the tea markets about Dancong, but nobody had any.
Only recently was I reminded of this experience by Steepster friends logging Dancong tasting notes. I asked a friend in QIngdao to have her tea friend in Guangzhou send some Dancong samples for me to try again. She ended up sending about a dozen, all of which were mind-blowing.
In the first round of tasting, I actually picked out a Mi Lan Dancong over this, because it had more of a “smack in the face” intensity that you couldn’t ignore. Then I came back to the Huang Zhi Xiang. It was a more quiet tea. I realized that if you are willing to listen, willing to taste, this tea had much more to give then any of the other samples. It is about two dozen teas in one. It recaptures that “shapeshifter” experience I had with my first Dancong.
I have found myself brewing Dancong every day without fail since the last shipment came in, and I still love it. I love it so much that I am actually re-assigning one of my favorite Yixing pots from Big Red Robe to Dancong. That should be an interesting flavor experiment v. gaiwan steeping. What I love about this tea is that it always has something new to offer. It is the essence of a multi-dimensional tea. It is a challenge to rise to. It holds my attention like an aged sheng pu’er might.
I hope that other tea lovers will fall head over heels for this like I have. I know that I will be requesting another 50+ samples to try to pick out another type of Dancong to expand the line- that is, if I can find one to live up to this Huang Zhi Xiang.