Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Get to know Phoenix Dan Cong (5) - Old or young

Dan Cong can be rare due to its old age and limited production, but is it necessary better? Here are some of the distinctions between the old and the young.

Under normal growing condition - low altitude with dramatic seasonal temperature changes, tea tree's live cycle peeks around 60 to 75 years old, then it starts to decline and die soon after. During this live cycle, early years is growing cycle, like a baby grows to expand limps, in the case of tea tree branches and root system. However young trees are fragile and weak, hence teas produced from young trees are thin and flat in taste and texture.

As a tree grows into 20's and 30's, the tree is strong and vibrant, with sufficient fertilization, leaves are strong and meaty, production is high. At this stage, flavor starts to develop, but not complex.

At age of 40 to 50's, tree is at its prime, production is high with complex flavor.

At 60's and 70's, the flavor is most complex, however production declines.

Flavor: Tannin is significantly more than older bushes, hence it can be bitter and astringent if brewed too long. Aroma is very up front, sure to give an impression. Texture is thin with sweet honey taste. Young and wild, beautiful and temperamental. Well made teas can last 7 to 10+ brews. Well made commercial teas have an even uniformed look due to production availability. Commercial teas are further separated by size according to grades.

What preserves the longevity of a tea tree one may ask?! Slow growth in cool (not cold) climate with little direct sun ray. High altitude mountain sides facing south-east produce the best teas in the world.

Tea trees are adaptable to shaded environment. High altitude mountains are covered with dense fog for many hours each day, providing moisture and nutrients to the leaves. Dense fog also block off direct sunlight yet allow ultra violet ray to penetrate the cloud layer that photo cells need to transform nutrients into energy. Without direct sunlight, temperature remains low until later in the day when fog layers are cleared. Trees on the south east side of the hill side does not get much direct sunlight even the fog layers are cleared. The hottest sunlight is in early afternoon, which is all over the other side of the hill. Leaves and branches grow slowly in this climate, at the same time root system develops fast with all the nutrients absorbed from the leaves. Big root system and slow growth mean lots nutrients are being stored in each leaf. Older the tree slower the growth.

Flavor wise, aroma is less pronounced as younger trees, taste is complex with multiple layers. Each leaf contains 37% dissolvable substance, ranging 40 to 60+ chemicals by varietal, there is much to discover in your cup of phoenix tea! 20+ up to 35 brews is not uncommon. Its smooth, round texture and lingering after taste are signifier of old bush. Rich but introverted. Old bush teas are some what uneven in look, there are young leaves, matured (not old) leaves, rolled up or open, long whole leaves mixed with a few cut up ones. It contains everything harvested from the same tree without separation by grade. Because of this very practice, it further adds layers of complexity to the flavor of these old bush teas.

Although some may prefer the aroma over taste, old bush taste is not for everyone, definitely takes time and much drinking to learn its beauty. Comparison will reveal quality fairly. I usually advice my customers drink the young before the old, knowing the old will over power the young. However many are caught in the aroma. If you had more than enough for one session, try tasting the young right after the old. Oh well, I'll probably be stuck with all the young crops once everyone discovered the secret. :P

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