A Lesson in tea buying 2/3: Dan Cong

The second part of our three post serious is the shortest, but left me with the most unwanted tea.

I don’t really care for Dan Congs. I know this is a category that has a lot of fans but personally I find it hard to get excited. To me they often are are a little overly perfumey and lack real body or flavor. The exception to this is Wudong Dan Congs.

Wudong is an area near the top of Feng Huang Shan. (It’s important to know that it is not the top, there is an area that is higher.) That being said the teas produced here are some of the best Feng Huang Dan Congs. The most distinguishing factor for me that separates Wudong teas is the weighty body. While I do not care for most Dan Congs, Wudong Dan Congs can be quiet complex and have characteristics unlike any other tea. That being said, you can understand why searching for Dan Cong poses a problem for me as I am so often unimpressed, until last winter that is.

I had originally met the maker on a visit to Wudong the spring before. I saw him using a wood burning oven to bake his teas and knew his stuff must be good. Unfortunately it was the spring and, for those who don’t know, while Dan Congs will get an initial roast in Spring it isn’t until Summer that they get their final roast. I ended up having dinner with this family and exchanging wechats to make future purchase once their teas were done.

Jump ahead to winter. An unexpected opportunity had given me the chance to move to China and it wasn’t until Winter that I reached out to the maker to see if he had any teas left.
“I have one” he said.
At a pretty good price of 500rmb a jin, I ordered half a jin to try it out, not sure what to expect.

It was fantastic. I was in shock for just how good this tea was. It was on the simpler side complexity wise but a fresh watermelon Jolly Rancher sweetness, clean aroma, and slight weighty body made this a great tea for 500 rmb (In the world of fine Chinese teas, 500 rmb is on the cheaper side). I quickly ordered three more Jins (basically three pounds) excited to get it to all of you in the west.

About a week later the package arrives. I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about Dan cong. I open up the box, admired the beautiful canisters the tea came in, popped one open, unsealed the bag inside, and then stopped.

The aroma was different.

It seemed heavier, less spring like. It was a small difference so I kept going hoping I was overthinking, but my excitement was slowly turning into anxiety. The difference was small, but it was there. The tea still had a watermelon Jolly Rancher flavor, but it wasn’t light or fresh. Instead lingering in the background was a roasty flavor like a dark shadow. While a roasty flavor can be nice in teas, in the middle of sweet bright and fruity notes it didn’t belong. It threw the whole tea completely out of balance. The weightiness was gone and freshness were gone, and gone with it was my love for this tea.

This purchase was very soon after the white tea incident mentioned in my last post, so I was determined to not let this one go with the same passiveness that I did the last one. I quickly messaged the maker to ask if what the same time. When he replied it was I tried to explain taste difference. He claimed it was impossible that the tea was different, there was no way.  The conversation went back and forth like that for a while with no resolution reached. So there I was with three pounds of a tea I wasn’t going to drink and no idea what to do with it. I wasn’t going to drink it and I didn’t feel comfortable trying to sell something I didn’t personally enjoy. 

To make matters worse, the week before  I had had dinner with the owner of a large and famous Mao Feng Company. (If you are in Tunxi Old street its logo is everywhere). I had given him the half Jin of the good Dan Cong thinking I had more coming.

 In retrospect what I assumed happened was that the maker had given it an extra roast when I ordered it, which had been one too many. The lesson I learned from this experience would go on to help me in the final chapter of our trilogy.

Next week is the final chapter and probably the most painful. Everyone knows my love for Tie Guan Yin, and at one point I almost got my hands on truly amazing Tie Guan Yin.

Ok, not amazing, but really F-ing good.