There are so many varieties and sub-varieties of tea that it can be hard to keep track. You’ve got green, yellow, white, oolong, and black, but for the novice tea drinker, it can be hard to believe that it goes even further than that! Within each of these five main tea categories, you can find a wide array of flavors and aromas. Some types even have a large number of sub-varieties all their own.
I now introduce to you: dancong tea. Although its name translates to “single bush,” dancong tea bushes are like snowflakes–no two are the same. It’s because of this variability that there are so many sub-varieties. In fact, there are at least 10 known subvarieties, but some argue there are even more.
Dancong’s origin story
It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of dancong tea… but perhaps you have, just by a different name. Ever heard of “duck shit aroma oolong” tea? Turns out, they’re one and the same!
I hope I haven’t confused you even further here, but let me explain. There’s a very clever reason why dancong tea is commonly known as duck shit aroma oolong. To this day, many drinkers prefer to call it by its nickname rather than its proper name. You have to admit, it adds a little bit of mystery and humor to the tea-drinking experience, which is rare in and of itself.
A tricky nickname
So what’s the deal with this unusual moniker? It was actually an attempt by dancong tea farmers to prevent people from finding out how valuable their tea bushes were and deter them from stealing their crops.
Grown in the Phoenix Mountains in the southeast of China, dancong tea trees sit atop soil with a yellow-brown tint that could pass for… well, duck excrement. However, this attempt at trickery was relatively unsuccessful and dancong tea farmers could not keep their treasure trove a secret for very long.
A poorly kept secret
Perhaps the name “duck shit aroma oolong” attracted a bit too much attention. Regardless of whether or not people thought it was grown from soil rich in duck waste, they wanted to get their hands on it.
Remember, dancong tea bushes aren’t cultivated like other tea plants. They grow wild, rather than in neat and tidy rows, with each tea tree creating a batch of tea all its own. But it’s the abundance of aromas and flavors of the tea that really captured people’s attention.
The many sub-varieties of dancong tea
It might be hard to believe, but dancong tea leaves have an uncanny ability to naturally taste like anything from almonds to orchids. The most extensive list of different dancong tea flavors I could find includes:
- Magnolia (Yu Lan Xiang)
- Jasmine (Mo Li Xiang)
- Orchid (Zhi Lan Xiang)
- Geranium (Huang Zhi Xiang)
- Osmanthus blossom (Gui Hua Xiang)
- Tuberose (Ye Lai Xiang)
- Honey-Orchid (Mi Lan Xiang)
- Ginger blossom (Po Tou Xiang)
- Pomelo blossom (You Hua Xiang)
- Almond (Xin Ren Xiang)
- Cinnamon (Rou Gui Xiang)
I repeat: these flavors are natural! How? We can give all the credit to the farmers of these magnificent shrubs.
Over time, farmers growing dancong tea in the Phoenix Mountains noticed subtle changes in the flavor profiles of their crops. They paid close attention to the particular tree the flavor came from and would then cultivate it further until the aroma grew strong enough to be differentiated from the others.
How dancong tea is cultivated
Once the leaves are harvested from the wildly grown trees, they go through a bit of a process to get them ready to brew that perfect cup of tea. First, the sun does its thing and dries the leaves out. The leaves are then oxidized at room temperature before being introduced to higher temperatures to help “fix” them. Finally, they are rolled and dried, which helps to give them their curly appearance when finished.
How to brew dancong tea
To get the full experience of drinking dancong tea, it’s important that you take care to brew it properly. Just as much effort should be put into brewing the tea as was put into procuring the tea in the first place.
It is highly recommended that dancong tea be brewed Gong Fu style. This particular style of tea preparation is precise, takes a number of particular items, and could even take some practice to get it right, but it is well worth the effort for the end result.
The beauty of brewing tea Gong Fu style is that you can use the same tea leaves over and over again, with the flavor actually growing in intensity with each brew. Even though each brew yields a bit of a surprise, it will undoubtedly always be delicious.
If you’re just starting out, this video offers a great tutorial on the art of brewing tea Gong Fu style:
It’s well worth investing in the teaware if you’re looking to enjoy dancong tea in the way it was meant to be prepared.
Where to buy authentic dancong tea
It can be challenging to find dancong tea that’s the real deal, but it’s not impossible. You just have to know where to look.
You can find some dancong teas from large online retailers, but your best bet is ordering through an online teashop that you trust. You may even get lucky and find dancong tea in a local cafe or coffee shop, but that could be hit or miss.
If you’re just trying out dancong tea, this list can give you a few good ideas of where to start. If you have an online tea retailer that you know and love, see if they’ve got dancong tea in stock.
An oolong tea that’s a step above the rest
Finding a product that’s natural, without artificial flavors, can feel like an uphill battle. There are tons of tea products out there that sound delicious, but once you find out they’re loaded with artificial ingredients, you may be inclined to steer clear.
That’s what makes dancong tea so amazing. Nearly a dozen unique flavors that are totally natural? Sign me up!