Dancong: Taste of the North against taste of the South

Following recent discussions with tea friends on the Dancongs and their aging, I undug from my storage one of my old Dancongs, a little Ba Xian from 2015, the first tea bought from my friend who produced it in Lingtou. It was precisely while looking for this tea that I met my friend Zhang. It must be said that in Shanghai, finding Dancongs in a tea house is quite exceptional, so I had directly contacted various producers through Chinese social networks. I have a little soft spot for Ba Xian, one of those complex teas that have always amazed me, both the real Dancong and their clones exported to Taiwan.

If I look back to my history with the Dancongs, I must admit that this path was as much paved with aged teas as with young teas. As for example one of my first favorites was a Mi Lan Xiang from 1994 by Imen, who runs a shop in Los Angeles, Tea Habitat, which has long been and which still remains one of the few dens of Dancong outside of Chaoshan.

When we speak of old Wulongs, we naturally speak of rock teas or Taiwanese teas, rarely of Dancong. All these Wulongs for aging have a common identity: a strong roasting which allows the humidity to be lowered as much as possible in order to prevent the tea from spoiling. Aging will result in softening the roasting notes, developing the notes of stewed fruits, and transforming the floral and vegetal notes into notes of aromatic herbs or into animal notes of musk and amber. The people of Fujian call this particular taste Chen Wei, the smell of old Wulong. This is also why roasted teas are considered to be best after at least 6 months to a year of storage. So, the Wulong really dedicated to aging are the most roasted. This should not be confused with the practice of re-roasting the tea every two years to give it a new freshness: the best Wulongs are only roasted before being put into storage and sometimes before they are put back on sale.

What does this have to do with the Dancongs, these pretty green flowery Wulongs, with just a little roasting to bring more body to tea? I had to live in China to understand. Understand Chinese fashion first: the majority of Chinese people love their teas more and more fresh and green. There are only few shops attached to the tradition that still want these more robust teas. What sells today are fresh, light teas. Green teas are getting greener and greener, so are the Anxi Wulong (the oxidized and roasted versions of Tie Guan Yin are almost only found in Taiwan, in very small quantities) and the Dancong too have followed this path ever since. a decade. In fact, the traditional taste of the people of Southeast China is disappearing in profit of the taste of the North Chinese, who today are the real buyers with the capital to procure the best teas. And the market is changing. If these full-bodied teas still survive, it is thanks to the demand of the Chinese diaspora and some locals.

For me, who am Alsatian, it reminds me of the evolution of our white Alsatian wines, between an old generation, even an old guard, which makes fruity and fairly dry wines survive, and a market that today wants wines sweet and syrupy.

When we come back to traditional Dancongs, we find more oxidized, more roasted teas. These ancient modes of production are often today reserved for the oldest tea plants. I would even say: there is no green Wulong made from unique, centuries-old tea plants. It is as if a dichotomy was formed between the Ancients and the Moderns. But these old-fashioned Wulongs have so much to offer, wouldn't it be a shame to forget them in favor of Taste of the North?

I admit ... I chose my side ...

And I am lucky to have a friend who is a producer who continues this tradition and does not hesitate to look for teas in the same vein, to sell them ... to my greatest happiness ...


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