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Feng Huang Dan Cong

    Feng Huang Dan Cong (Phoenix Dan Cong) is one of the most fantastic and famous Chinese Oolong teas. It is produced in Phoenix Town, and surrounding areas of Chaozhou of Guangdong Province. To learn about Phoenix Dan Cong, firstly it is necessary to have a background knowledge of Chaozhou People (潮州人). Chaozhou People is one group of the most capable Chinese who live in Chaozhou and East Guangdong, and also many of them live overseas.They called themselves as Chaozhou Ren and speak the same dialect Chinese Chaozhou Hua. Many of them are very successful in business and other linesGenerally Chaozhou People are smart, hard-working and like to help each other among them. 

Chaozhou People has started planting and producing tea since Song Dynasty which is around 1,000 years ago. The earliest Chaozhou tea appeared in Chinese documentary in end of Song Dynasty. In 1277AD, the Mongolian were invading China. And the last Emperor of Song Dynasty (still a child aged nine then) was chased to the South. One day he and his ministers passed by Mt. Wudong to escape from the invading army. The emperor was very thirsty. It happened that his people in Wudong presented tea to him. The emperor drank the tea and felt very nice. His following minsters made an official record on this event. The name of this tea was Niao Zui Cha (Bird Mouth Tea).

Later in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD), one tea named as Daizhao Tea produced from Phoenix mountain was the tribute tea to the imperial palace.

Phoenix Dan Cong as a oolong tea was most likely invented in middle Qing Dynasty (around 200 years ago). Ever since then, the smart and hard-working Chaozhou People has kept developing this tea in Cultivar breeding, Processing, Tasting and Marketing etc..

 Hard working Chaozhou People

    One other important fact is that Chaozhou People like to help each other among themselves which also greatly enhance the development of this tea. In Chaozhou, people have the tradition of competing their teas in each kind of occasions and also they like communicating, and they are generous in sharing the knowledge and experience in between them. Independently they are producing their own tea, while in overall they always coordinate in the producing. In some point, the fantastic quality of Phoenix Dan Cong is a reflect of the life of Chaozhou people. This tea can not even be imitatively produced in else where of China.

Phoenix Dan Cong tea is one part of life of Chaozhou people

  Phoenix Town and surrounding areas has the highest mountains in East Guangdong. The ancestors of Chaozhou people has planted teas in Mt.Wudong,  Feng Niao Ji, Da Zhi Shan, Bi Jia Shan, Wan Feng ShanShuang Ji Liang and other mountains.

The tea garden on Phoenix Mountain

    During the history, the Chaozhou tea farmers has kept exploring and selecting tea trees which can make fine quality teas and took theirs seeds for breeding cultivars.  Since 150 years ago, they have started practicing grafting as clone breeding cultivar. Now in the mountains of Phoenix Town, there grows tea trees of nearly one thousand years old, a few hundred years old,  tens of years old and also newly planting tea trees together.

Old Tree and Young Tree

 Chaozhou tea farmers plucked tea leaves from these selected tea trees to make fine quality Phoenix Dan Cong with different characteristics. Up to now, ten main classic types of Phoenix Dan Cong according to the characteristics of their natural flavor was fixed (there are also a few other minority types which is not often seen).The ten main classic types are Huang Zhi Xiang (Gardenia jasminoides flavor), Zhi Lan Xiang(Orchid flavor), Mi Lan Xiang(Honey flavor), Gui Hua Xiang (Osmanthus flavor), Yu Lan Xiang (Magnolia flavor), Jiang Hua Xiang (Ginger flower flavor), Ye Lai Xiang (A special flavor of this type), Mo Li Xiang (Jasmine flavor), Xin Ren Xiang (Apricot kernel flavor) and Rou Gui Xiang (Cinnamon flavor).

    The following is a family tree of the ten main classic types Phoenix Dan Cong.
The following is the image of the mother trees of the nowadays ten main classic types of Phoenix Dan Cong.
Question: Do the mother trees nowadays still produce any Phoenix Dan Cong?
Answer:  Yes, they still produce a few Phoenix Dan Cong teas from the mother trees. But the production is under control and need license from the government. And the quantity is very limited, generally 2-5KG a year per tree. It is very rare and very high-valued.

Plucking and Processing of Phoenix Dan Cong

   1 Tea Plucking  

The plucking of new year crop of Phoenix Dan Cong started in around the beginning of April. The earliest plucking cultivar is Bai Ye Dan Cong of Mi Lan Xiang family which started in the end of March. Some of the mixed cultivar old trees on the upper level of the mountains will start plucking till around middle of May. 

 Tea Plucking

Phoenix Dan Cong can also be plucked in Autumn and Winter. Chaozhou is Subtropical Oceanic Climate, and it is warm in Winter. So unlike most of other Chinese producing places, in Winter Chaozhou tea still germinate and can be plucked. They call the phoenix Dan Cong made by the leaves plucked in winter as Dong Cha (冬茶 en. Winter Tea) or Xue Pian (雪片 en. Snow slice).

The plucking standard of Phoenix Dan Cong tea is one bud two leaves to one bud five leaves. And it can not be even tender or older. Neither of the tender leaves nor older leaves are suitable to make Phoenix Dan Cong. The ideal plucking timing is in the afternoon 1:00pm-4:00pm of sunny days. Leaves plucked in this timing can be sent for sunlight-withering (晒青 Shai Qing) without any delay. The sunlight after 4:00pm is just good enough for withering. Because it is not too strong. Too strong sunlight will spoil the leaves.

Phoenix Dan Cong is made by one bud two leaves to fives leaves
 The ideal plucking timing is in the afternoon 1:00pm-4:00pm of sunny days. Leaves plucked in this timing can be sent for sunlight-withering (晒青 Shai Qing) without any delay

    2 Sunlight-withering (晒青 Shai Qing)

    The sunlight after 4:00pm is just good for withering, since it is not too strong. Too strong sunlight will spoil the nature of the leaves.   

   3 Indoor Cooling down and withering (晾青 Liang Qing)

     After sun-withering, the tea leaves need to be put indoors for cooling down and withering for around 1-2hours. This processing is called as 晾青 Liang Qing.

4 Make Green (做青Zuo Qing)    
    After 晾青, the time is already at night. Now it come to the most important and complicated processing of Phoenix Dan Cong, Make Green(做青Zuo Qing). This processing include three minor processing, Wave Green (浪青Lang Qing), Put Static (静置Jing Zhi) and Rotate Green(摇青Yao Qing).
    Wave Green, Lang Qing is a word from local Chaozhou dialect. It is a very good and clear word to describe this handling. It means to move the tea leaves by hand as waving. The waving movement of the tea leaves will rub and damage the cells on the edge and surface of the leaves. The inner biochemical contents of the damaged tea cells are released and they will produce fermentation. (The un-damaged cells are kept intact and will not produce fermentation).The processing after Wave Green is Put Static, which is conducted to leave enough time for the fermentation. The Put Static time lasts around two hours. Then another round of Wave Green will do. And it is followed by another time Put Static. Generally it needs conduct four times of Wave Green-Put Static recycle. The tea makers can not sleep overnight. It is very exhausting work. They need to do the handling by hand and watch the change of leaves, mainly color change and flavor give-off. Furthermore, they need to judge the conditions of temperature, humidity and nature of tea leaves to decide the handling extent and timing by their experience and insight. To make a good Phoenix Dan Cong tea requires very high level performance of the tea makers. It’s a kind of artistic work. 

Make Green (shaking and colliding)

  The last time tea leaves cell rubbing and damage is called as Rotate Green  (摇青Yao Qing). It is conducted in a round bamboo container in which the leaves are packed. And the bamboo container is rotated by hand. The rotation will produce more violent damaged of the cells of tea leaves than Wave Green.

Rotate Green

 After enough rotation, the leaves will Put Static for fermentation again. In the end of the fermentation the leaf edge will turn out to be red color, while the center color is still green. A roughly percentage of red part vs. green part of leaf of a good fermentation is 3:7. We call it three red seven green (三红七绿) as experience rule. And in this stage the tea will give off fragrant fruity flavor.

Good Make-Green leaves turning out to be three red seven green color 三红七绿 in the final

 5 Frying 杀青Sha Qing    

    After overnight Make Green, it is already next day morning. Now the tea is ready for frying杀青 Sha Qing. Most of the frying nowadays is conducted by drum. Only a few of the farmers is still using pan-fry.

Drum Frying

  The temperature of the drum will rise up to around 200℃. The tea maker needs to decide the extent of frying by experience. Over-frying will produce burning flavor of tea and less-frying will make the tea stale flavor. After proper frying, the fermentation of the leaves is completely stopped and the quality produced by Make Green is stabilized. 

    (Now, from the way of processing we can know that Phoenix Dan Cong is semi-fermented Oolong tea, with the outer edge of leaves fermented, the inner center part remain un-fermented).

  6 Rolling

    After frying the tea will undergo Rolling. Proper Rolling will make beautiful tea body. And the tea juice (already stabilized) will be extracted out from the cells and evenly cover up on the tea body, which will later after drying make the tea body appear oily shiny color.

The tea leaves after rolling need to spread on the bamboo plates in thin layer to cool down and dismiss group.

 7 Baking
    Baking is another key and complicated processing of Phoenix Dan Cong. Baking processing can not be done in one time. It is separated in three times. They are named as Preliminary baking (Chuhong), Re-baking (Fuhong) and 3rd time baking (Sanhong). As we experienced in cooking, natural heating produce better food than electric heating, generally good quality Phoenix Dan Cong need charcoal heat for baking. The tea is spread on the surface of bamboo basket in thin layer. And the charcoal heat up under the bamboo basket. During the baking smoke is definitely not allowed to occur.
    In Preliminary baking, the temperature is high on 130-140℃, and the tea need stirring to avoid burning. When the water content in the leaf is left at around 40%, the preliminary baking will finish. Then the tea will be put cooling down for around 1-2hours. And the water will re-distribute evenly in the leaf which will do good for Re-baking.
    Re-baking temperature need to control at around 100℃. And when the water content of tea leaf is around 20%, the processing will finish.

    3rd baking temperature is lower at around 70-80℃, and it will last longer time. Low temperature long time baking is critical to obtain good flavor and taste of Phoenix Dan Cong.

The baking of Phoenix Dan Cong by Charcoal heat

After baking, the whole processing of Phoenix Dan Cong tea is finished. While the tea is not available for sale immediately. It still need store for one month or a few months. The Chaozhou people call this storage as 退火 Tuihuo. The fire heat has covered up the natural flavor of Phoenix Dan Cong during baking. Tuihuo will help the tea give off its natural flavor again. It is a kind of maturation of tea.

Appendix 1.

The Chaozhou Gongfu Cha Dao


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