Fenghuang Dancong Oolong takes nearly 24 hours of meticulous hand labor to produce in Master Huang Ruiguang’s family workshop, followed by at least two months of resting before it is ready to release! It is an alluring, deeply aromatic tea that changes over each steeping and lingers on the palate for hours. Properly brewing Fenghuang Dancong requires more care than many other teas, but the extra attention is worth the reward of tasting the result of perfect terroir and painstaking labor.
There are two main approaches to brewing Dancong Oolong.
The first is Master Huang Ruiguang’s recommended technique- the oldest and most traditional way to brew tea in Guangdong.
The principle behind Guangdong-style brewing is to push the tea as far as it will go, brewing a deeply bitter cup. The intensity of this style is meant to reveal any shortcomings in the tea. Bitterness is accepted by professional tasters, but dry astringency is not.
Each sip is tremendously powerful with bitterness coming in as a prelude to intense Dancong mineral and wood texture. After the sip, the sweet aftertaste comes as a beautiful, soothing contrast.
The bitter primer prepares the palette for deep lingering floral aromatics, and the all-encompassing sensation of “yun” the almost electrifying textural experience of fine tea.
To follow Huang Ruiguang’s Guangdong-style brewing, prepare a four to six ounce standard-sized gaiwan, a glass pitcher and small half ounce cups for tasting. The finer the porcelain cups and gaiwan, the more pronounced the aromatics will be.
Boil mineral-rich spring water and pour into the gaiwan. Pour the water through the gaiwan into the pitcher and cups to warm them.
Fill the gaiwan with leaf until there is about 1.5 times the leaf volume in the gaiwan as the total bowl volume. The lid should not be able to cover the dry leaves. This requires about ten to fifteen grams of dry leaf. Pour boiling water over the dry leaves and fill the gaiwan. The leaves should now be pliable enough to bend and allow the lid to be placed over the bowl. Immediately pour this wash into the pitcher and pour over all cups to keep them extremely hot.
Pour boiling 100 degree Celsius water over the leaves in the gaiwan to the very top of the bowl. Replace the lid. Allow the tea to steep for at least thirty seconds, and up to a minute. Start with thirty seconds on your first try and keep pushing the brew time to the very edge of your tolerance for bitterness.
Sip the intense brew in tiny cups, preferably with a group of friends to discuss the flavor. Finish your tiny cup in three sips, aerating as you sip. Pay attention to the mouthfeel on each initial sip and the way that the tea transitions from bitter to sweet. Enjoy the lingering aromatics and feel the ‘yun’ as you exhale.
For a more modern approach to brewing strip style oolong, use Wuyi brewing parameters.
The main difference is that Wuyi-style brewing is meant to push the tea to the very edge before it turns bitter to get the most texture and aromatics possible while assuring that every part of the taste experience builds on the last. The initial sip lingers and its aromatics strengthen each sip after.
The main goal is to bring out aromatics to the greatest extent possible, and let the ‘yun‘ textural sensation build up over many steepings instead of revealing it in one go through intense contrast.
Both methods are completely valid, and both eventually circle to the same essential core of the tea, but get there through different paths.
For Wuyi-style brewing fill your gaiwan to the top but don’t overfill it.
This requires 8-10 grams of leaf. Heat your gaiwan and perform a rinse just like you would for Guangdong-style, using boiling water. Brew your first infusion for no more than ten seconds. Sip out of slightly larger 1 ounce cups, still slurping your cup in three sips and aerating.
Your first Wuyi-style infusion will be light and sweet– a primer to the tea in a very different sense. You won’t truly grasp what the tea is about until the third steeping. If you can, withhold comment or judgement until then so as not to influence your tasting companions.
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