What Is Phoenix Oolong Tea?
At China's southwestern tip, in Guangdong Province, lies the city of Chaozhou. It sits at the foot of a remote mountainous region named for it's most prominent peak - the Phoenix Mountains. This area is ideal for cultivating tea, but it's rough terrain, and the area is isolated. As a result, they have created a style of tea distinct from any other in China.
Oolongs from the Phoenix Mountains are sometimes called dan cong. This name translates as "single grove", and references the method of cultivation used. Here, tea trees have been selectively bred over centuries to mimic distinct flavors. The trees are then grafted, rather than replanted from seed. Thus, growers can preserve the genetic qualities of the mother plant. Each variety in this area therefore evokes a specific fruit or flower fragrance.
How Is Phoenix Oolong Tea Made?
The range of inherent flavor in the tea plants grown in this area is huge. Tea makers use a wide range of techniques to emphasize the unique qualities of their varieties. Lighter levels of oxidation can bring forth a leaf's floral and citrus aromas. Further bruising and browning the leaves can add richness and complexity to the tea.
These teas are also distinctive due to the age of the trees they are harvested from. Tea farmers in most parts of the world will replant every 10-20 years to maintain the largest yield. But tea trees on Phoenix Mountain are allowed to grow into old age, with the oldest reaching 100 years or more. As the plant ages into a small tree, it produces fewer leaves. Instead, more nutrients and flavor compounds develop in each leaf. This creates complex flavors on the palate that often astound new drinkers.
Signs Of Quality
Some Phoenix oolongs are renowned for their lineage. After centuries of selective breeding, teas from older lines have more complex flavors. Others are coveted for the age of the trees on which they're grown. Older trees can also create complexity in the flavor and the brew. Finally, elevation plays a part here, as in other oolongs. Higher elevations encourage slow growth, and allows these plants to develop more flavor.
Many of these qualities can be difficult to gauge when purchasing teas. Even among Phoenix oolongs of high quality, flavor profiles can vary dramatically. Often, astringency and bitterness can even be desirable qualities. Generally, younger trees produce more floral and fruity aromas. The leaves of older plants are more robust and nuanced in their flavor profiles.