Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who's mistaking?!

I found this article online and dumbfounded! Especially coming from a reputable tea shop.

Let's get to the point here.

Quote: Actually, while dan cong (单丛) literally means "single bush," it doesn't refer to how the tea was picked. It's a botanical term relating to the morphology of the tea bush. While most tea bushes emerge from the ground in a cluster of branches, the uncommon dan cong variety emerges as a single trunk that branches off higher up the stem.

From what I am reading here, the writer said Dan Cong is a single trunk tree that branches off higher up the stem, therefore Dan Cong is named as Single (trunk) tree/bush which has nothing to do with how it's processed. But most of the tea bushes (excluding DC) emerge from the ground in a cluster of branches, therefore not called single (trunk) tree/bush.

Some one found this online about Phoenix DC in Chinese:
Quote: 凤凰单丛茶属乌龙茶类,始创于明代,以产自潮安县凤凰镇乌岽山,并经单株(丛)采收、单株(丛)加工而得名。

Translation: Phoenix Dan Cong is catagorized as Oolong tea, development began in Ming Dynasty, produced in Chao An County, Phoenix Town, Wu Dong Mountain, gained its name Dan Cong (single bush) based on harvested and processed single bush/tree/plant indivdually.

Development of Dan Cong teas in modern days:

Let's see some pictures here:
Zhi Lan Xiang - local name is Ji Long Han - Chicken Cage, 7 branches from the ground up (click on picture for larger image). 4.87 meters tall, tree crown is 5x2.1 meters, produced 4.65 kilo of tea (finished product) in 2007 Spring, 5.5 kilos in 2008.

Mi Lan Xiang - Honey orchid, 8 branches from ground up.
Rou Gui Xiang - Cinnamon Aroma, 1 main trunk, 2 split branches at 0.56 meters above ground, annual production is 5 kilos tea (finished product).
In fact, majority of the Dan Cong tea trees/bushes are branched off from the ground up, rarely a single trunk as the Rou Gui Xiang tree in above picture.

Quote: Unfortunately, tea sellers who have never visited tea farms and don't know tea all the way from the farm to the cup have misinterpreted the literal meaning of the Chinese characters and spread misinformation about dan cong tea. These inaccuracies have quickly propagated via the internet. If you've ever been to a tea farm or seen tea bushes out in the wild, you know that with a typical ratio of 8-10 kilos of fresh tea leaves required to make a kilo of tea, there's no way a single bush could generate a marketable quantity of tea, even if you killed it by stripping off virtually every leaf!

Let's say the writer has visited the farms in Phoenix Mountain. Does that mean commercial products are all there is to this tea region? If so the writer had visited region and had not seen the old bushes and tasted the teas processed single tree at a time, mostly grown amongst homes and not in a FARM, that just means he hadn't seem much of the hills. If this is all the writer learn about this tea at the mountain of Phoenix, he is the one should spend more time learning the truth before spreading inaccuracies which might quickly propagate via the internet.

A tree at height of 5.8 meters, covering 6.5x6.8 meters area produces barely 9 kilos of tea does require 35 kilos of fresh leaves. My suggestion is for the writer to find a tree (any tree) of similar size as mentioned, strip the damn tree naked and see how many kilos of fresh leaves (dried leaves on the ground does not count) can be collected. I am so darn curious to find out the out come.

Speaking of Dan Cong oolong only here: average production per single tree is 1.5 kilos, with the ratio of 35 to 9, each tree produces 6 kilos of collectible fresh leaves suitable for tea making per year, excluding older leaves. Growing up in the midwest, I had done some yard work of raking fallen leaves. I guess that will never happen to someone lives in San Francisco. Let me tell you, even fallen dried leaves of a tree in size of the above mentioned tree, that's a hell lot of work and bags of them each fall.

Marketable quantity is what? Mass production is what's available on the market, accessible to the mass population. Small 1 lb quantity is not mass production that's available in a niche market (at one store only). If large quantity is your game, that also speaks the quality of the business run by such mentality and that's find with me. The mass population have no problem with it, nor do I.

I hope the lesson we learn here, including myself, when we post something online, we are responsible for what we say, not just the self believing "truth" when it comes to the principles of facts. Especially when someone out there believe what you say. It's funny to tell a joke or stretch the truth. However when it comes to claiming the authority of the truth, please be well informed with proof then say so. Selling tea for many years makes one a businessman with some knowledge, brewing knowledge at best, definitely not the authority in production and cultivation! Learning the back ground and history of a tea is fairly important, get that straight before "My words are golden because I said so".


Herb Master said...

Superb post, lots of interesting info on the trees / bushes.

Your comments on marketable quantiy are interesting, having seen your menu of teas for sale and the ones quoted where you have the whole tree production available lend some doubts to other vendor's claims to be single tree (x hundred years old) and large quantities available.

However different vendor's don't make such outlandish claims, but translate it as single grove?

Could cloning and replanting a whole grove from the same parent (when the trees are say 30 years old) produce a reliable conformity that would allow a 'more' marketablee quantity? Or would they all inevitably have slightly different qualities?

Do younger trees produce a larger quantity of usable leaf than the really old trees?

Allan Gaskin said...


Salsero said...

Thanks for responding to the Camellia Sinensis post ... I was wondering.

This episode makes clear that there is some confusion about these terms, and that even people who know a lot about tea may not know everything about every kind of tea.

Imen said...

Herb Master,

I'll post an article about tea cultivation soon that will answer your questions. Thanks for putting up with my feisty demeanor. :)


I don't think any one knows everything about all teas, and it's okay if we don't. But claiming you do with false information (intentional or not )betting that others will believe in everything you say is not what I like to call factual truth. Usually I don't like to combat such source of misinformation, but this one hits too close to home.

toki said...

Thanks Imen again for correcting those who think they are more informed. "Little slope talking to the big mountain" or perhaps "A frog judging the sky from a well." as my folks always remind me : P

Imen said...


I dare not to label IT in any ways, as I do have respect for RF. Being in the business for so long is not easy and I am no where near what they have accomplished business wise.

After all, we all have something to learn at all times no matter where you stand, eh?

Thanks for understanding. :)

Anonymous said...

The reason Imen is right about single-bush Dan Congs is the same reason all of what's called Big Red Robe here in the West is fake. There are original Da Hong Pao bushes to this day. And they yield, indeed, just a small amount of tea. But to quibble about whether that's "commercial" is ridiculous. If they can produce in health, no one doubts it's highly prized tea because it isn't produced on a large tea garden. The reality is it's valuable because the real thing is so rare and available in such small amounts from the few real original bushes. --Spirituality of Tea

drumhum said...

Like most, I have always read about the single tree thing for Dan Cong. I have to say, though, I have always been suspicious about it.

I would have thought, for example that the name of the individual tree would enter discussions. "The xyz tree located 2yrds left of the farm gate, provided a particularly fine brew this spring". Is it possible to buy from the same tree every year? If not, why not?

Imagine it in terms of apple trees. If the farmer had to keep each tree's harvest separate it would be quite a task!

The figures of harvest yield of a tree is also spread over numerous pickings, yes? This means one picking in early spring will indeed be a relatively small amount and consequently difficult to keep separate in any commercial setting. You'd end up with sacks of tea of differing weights etc etc.

I have no idea what the truth is. I'd love to believe the the single tree thing. But I struggle.

I suspect that post waffling on about "single trunk" is clouding the matter.

Just thoughts. I'd love to know for sure.

Imen said...


Great example! Thank you!


People will choose what and whom to believe regardless what I say. And I have said enough with proof directly from the people made those teas for more than 20 yrs. You are entitle to remain skeptical about it. There's nothing more I can say to convenience you, neither will I attempt.

LACheesemonger said...

Apples and oranges I suppose. You can see some Camellia genus @Huntington Gardens, last time I was in that section with my mother in 05, I recall some of them being pretty large +25ft tall and across. Should be as old as the Huntington 90+yrs.

The Japanese supposedly make tea from c. sasanqua, maybe I should try to make some from ours :p.

Look closely, bottom right of 'today' pix, you'll see a 1-2yr old seedling a few inches tall growing in the shade of the larger tree...'old bush' tree is likely 25+yrs old, trunk is 4-5in diameter.

How old is the Rou Gui Xiang tree, which @ .56m, the split would be just above the knee height of the man standing nearby?

LACheesemonger said...

I'm thinking like other types of 'rare' teas, there needs to be a authentication body there in Wu Dong, to certify and number tea lots/bushes?

In the high-roller world of high-end wines, even the 'experts' are fooled.

1959 Ponsot that Burghound notes 'lemongrass' flavor in link below, was a fake, as no Clos St. Denis was produced by the estate until decades later.

Which is why I guess 'expert' Allen Meadows made this comment about the ultra-rare 1945 Romanee-Conti:

"there was more meat, more earth, more leather, more soy…more everything. The palate was unbelievably long, lingering like what I would imagine to be a multiple orgasm. Beefy, rich, intense and hearty, the 1945 Romanee Conti is still the best wine that I have ever had. (99+).

The Burghound got up and shared some wisdom with us, as he could not stay in his chair after this flight! Allen joked that while ‘only 608 bottles of this wine were made, over 40,000 have probably been drunk.

That got quite a laugh, and he continued on that while ‘La Tache comes to you and seduces you, Romanèe Conti makes you come to it; it doesn’t care."

LACheesemonger said...

Another question, not really related to the 'controversy' I suppose.

All those figures for tea production, I don't really comprehend the arithmetic :p.

^selling this one for 1/2 what Imperial tea is. There quotation on production #'s.

Finished tea, fresh tea, mao cha (pre-finished?),
'clean tea', etc:

"This particular dancong tea comes from a tree that is over 100 year old and that can only produce 5 to 6 kilo of mao cha a year, that leaves about 2.5 to 3kg of clean tea."

And this one:

"This is one of the true teas that never reach the market! We tried this tea first 2 years ago and we had to wait spring 2009 to be able to acquire 1 little kg of the production of 3kg (clean tea, not mao cha)!


LACheesemonger said...

naming conventions also confuse me.

Song Zhong #5---Honey Orchid Fragrance...

is how you list it on your tasting menu/Tea Tasting Flights. Is this, could it be also called Song Zhong "Zhi Lan Xiang"...which translates into what again?

Xiang = flower or fragrance? Zhi Lan = ?

Zu Ye is so well known, that all locals know it to have 'cattleya orchid fragrance'... ie Zhi Lan Xiang... I'm confused :p

one last thing, on jts site the list under 'about us' 'support' personel. What are qualifications for a 'master' to be called that, if any?

Will a professor at any university in China have more accurate info in these 'botanical' or 'marketing' naming one mentioned below?

"Master Chen
Master Chen has been a tea buyer for the "China National Native Produce & Animal By-products Import and Export Corporation, Guangdong Tea Branch" (a.k.a. C.N.N.P) for more than 40 years. He is the fourth generation of a familly that was the first to sell and buy pu erh in Guangdong province back in the Qing dynasty. Although, pu erh lovers and collectors come and see him to learn or get advice, or to appraise some of their pu erh, he is like a "walking tea encyclopedia" and trully knows Chinese teas in their wide range.

Master Leung
Master Leung use to work for the "Chinese Tea Import & Export Co., Guangdong branch" as an engineer. His responsabilities included created the perfect pu erh recipe for compressed tea made in Guangdong. He is the recipe creator of the famous "Guang Yun Gong Bing" beeng cha and was one of the first people to work on pu-erh export to Europe in early 80's.

Pr. Liu Qin Jin - Professor/Managing Director
Research Institute of Tea Science,
SWAU China International Tea Cultural Institute
Professor Liu is very reputed for his scientific knowledge about pu erh tea and was one of the writters of the modern Cha Jing. When questions get a little bit too scientific, he is the person we like to ask."

Imen said...


Too many question, too little time. The tea world has such long history, went through many periods under different political regeines, many hands, evolved so many times in the last few thousands years. There is no systematic way to line them up like puppies in the mill. Exact number of species are unknown, how can one expect a name to last a thousand years for a tree or type of tea or even a specie of tea. What we see today is what we use commonly but not necessary it has been that way for thousands years.

Not only it's confusing to consumers, it's more so for researchers spending whole life times to sort things out. It's not thing sort of like names of city and country, a name we use today may not exist a hundred years ago. There is no definite answer I can tell you that much. Only what's commonly used today or at one period of time.

Please be patient with my work on translating the book of Dan Cong. Many questions can be answered in a formal systematic way, rather than me trying a questions here and there which doesn't make much sense without the flow of history.

I am overwhelmed with all the attention and questions lately, time is slipping away where I should put it to better use translating the book.

So Please be patient, many answers can be found when the book is done.

Imen said...

Please do not ask me to comment on other vendor's products. Thank you! said...

Thanks for the sharing, It's nice to know the information

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