Version française ici.
At the moment, translating all my upcoming articles in english is not on my agenda. This is an exceptional thing I did for a friend. But future will tell... Please forgive the many mistakes...
This is the last article of this little series and it will focus on the dan cong which are the most often seen, the ones that have endured a voluntary oxidation while they were made, with a light to medium roasting.
As mentioned before, these two steps will significantly change the tea character. They will also contribute to make it age properly, even getting better with time. Amateurs will often wait a short period of time after roasting, something like one year, before drinking it.
This kind of dan cong will be more on the fruit side, reminding of exotic fruits (litchi, mango, papaya) or peach, apricot, etc. It will depend on the type of tree and how the tea is made. This will of course change from one teamaker to another. I will now talk about this teamaking.
As I have mentioned a few times before, oxidation and roasting are two steps which can be mixed in a complex alchemy in order to create a unique tea. When it is well done, it can be very well seen as an art. No machinery will be able to lead to a beautifully balanced tea. This requires a knowledge often inherited from one generation of teamakers to another, or gained through very hard work (or both). There are plenty of examples which come to my mind : Master Huang and Master Xu for Wuyi Yancha, Master Lin and Master Wang for Phoenix wulong, which teas can be found in well-known british vendors shops.
I'll choose to talk about Master Wang's work to explain my point because at his level, teamaking is very much an art, but any other teamasters named before could have done the trick, and the list is not exhaustive of course...
Master Wang near one of his own old trees
To begin with, Master Wang owns a few trees himself, but he also buys tea leaves from local families who also own old tea trees, often passed from one generation to another. But he only buys leaves coming from trees which grow above 700m of altitude. He even moved some of his own trees higher up the mountain because he prefers this result.
Making his tea begins with the growing and caring of the tea trees, with this choice of where they grow. In fact, Master Wang has spent his entire life studying his mountain, the influence of water, wind, geology in general, and of course caring about the tea trees he inherited, some of those more than 800 years old.
He is a researcher too. Lu, who works with Tim at Postcard Teas, told me that she saw his "lab". Thanks to them, I am able to share with you some incredible photo footage which are worth a thousand words. Many thanks to them.
One can see quite a few bags. Each of them is filled with tea leaves, phoenix oolong tea leaves of course, with a paper on which is written the name of the tree, its age, the date of the picking, and the date(s) of roasting. Let's pause a second and imagine the kind of knowledge this man has gathered conducting all these "experiments" through the years, tasting them from time to time, analyzing the influence of different oxidation rates, roasting times, combinations of the two and so on. How exciting !
Here is a pic of his kiln, the device Master Wang imagined and built himself to roast his tea leaves. He only uses cherry wood to fire it, another example of his way of paying attention to details and his control over parameters of his teamaking.
So to sum up, this man has spent his entire life studying his trees and the influence of the geology of his mountain. He developed some of his own tea making techniques and has spent his entire life testing different combinations of tea varietals/oxidation rates/roasting(s)/ageing.
Maybe now a Teamaster Tea has more meaning to you. And guess what ? One can really taste the difference while drinking it compared to a commercial grade tea ! As I have mentioned before, this kind of dan cong can be found in a very wide range of quality. A Teamaster Dan Cong will automatically stands out. It won't be because of the "Teamaster" title, which can be falsely used in order to raise prices. But as for cooking, wine making and so on, tea making can very much become an art, a refinement full of subtleties, which is the result of an often long and difficult training.
Fewer and fewer craftsmanship nowadays are transmitted from one generation to another. Only a few people especially in the younger generations are looking into this level of traditional know-how, often tempted by the easy and fast profitable way, or the general standardisation of tastes. Those who have seen the french documentary called Mondovino about wine will see what I mean. Our time period sees the rapid destruction of all kind of things, centuries of know-how disappear. Thousands of animal and vegetal species too...
Tea is yet an area where one can find genuine traditional products, coming from the transmission of a few centuries old know-how. A handful of vendors are praising the work of such people so it can be recognized as something great. And I am not only talking about Phoenix Dan Cong here.
Drinking this kind of tea is always a pure moment of happiness. I can only advise you to try and to support their work...
Thanks for reading.