Phoenix oolong, classic styles
Sweet Ripen Fruits and Honey
This group of varieties is characterized with a pleasant aroma of honey, sweet ripen fruits or baked sweet potato, and a deep, woody yet floral undertone. No other teas can be similar to it. The liquor is a long bitter sweet with tinkling of tints of astringency and accents of other flavours, such as roasted cocoa, orange peel, almond or honey, etc, or a combination of some, depending on the variety.
This is my personal staple drink. I have yet to find another drink with the kind of taste complexity and aromatic comfort that can both sooth and tickle my senses every time I have it every single day for over a decade.
The ultimate cultivar used in the classic style is Huangzhi Xiang, but the demand for it is so high that the price for all finer qualities has gone quite unreachable in the past 8 years. Some has turned to make it into bouquet style for even higher prices. A more accessible one is Milan Xiang, a variety made from either cultivars of the same name or from Baiye (baí-yè, i.e. white leaf). Cultivars of Guihua Xiang (aka Cun’ti Dancong), Xinren Xiang, Jianghua Xiang and a few others produce varieties of the corresponding names. <read more about production>
The classic style is different from the bouquet style by a longer fermentation and more baking. A good baker and an average one makes a lot of difference. Over-baking, mostly through higher than needed temperature, causes an undesirable burnt taste. A current year production is often a lighter baked one, which freshness is lively and lovely, while an older stock is often rebaked for maturing. A rebaked tea should be consumed no less than 3 months after the rebake. It can be stored for peak quality between year 3 and 5 or longer, very much dependent on the original quality and the baking done onto it. A fine selection matured under the right condition is mellow, deep and woody, with individualistic tones of sweetness and bouquet.
Productions from all cultivars specialised in the bouquet style can also be browned to make into the classic style. As mentioned, Huangzhi Xiang, the ultimate Phoenix, is a popular example. However, since the bouquets in various varieties are so pleasant and popular that it is a practice for dealers to sell the tea as bouquet in the first year, and rebake the inventory to make classic styles the next year. However, the aroma and taste would be relatively coarser than those made into the classic style from the beginning.
Classic style Phoenix is perhaps the most delicate tea to infuse in the gongfu approach. You’d rather use a lower than higher temperature or it can taste too sharp or too bitter. Using the conventional approach particularly with the top drop method, however, is almost always successful for beginners.
I always love a fine single batch of fresh classic Phoenix oolong, unless I haven't finished large enough batch and let it endure a 3-year maturity, when it turns intensely sweet and rounder. Either way this is a particularly powerful digestive so it’s good when you want to be prepared for a great meal, but not very good when you are going on diet. This is a great tea to be enjoyed pure, or coupled with desserts, pastry or seafood. If you want to add milk and sugar, a medium or even a good lower grade will suffice as a taste winner.
The cost for this tea can vary extremely dramatically. The mecca of Phoenix production is Wudong where end-users who are nova riches or the powerful send their subordinates here every year to get those harvests from reputable Single Bushes of hundreds of years of age. This brings up the price ridiculously. A catty (500 g) of pre-finished tea (maocha) can be charged at a few hundred thousand RMB (check exchange rate), directly by the farmer. The demand is so high that some local farmers would buy plucks from outside of Wudong to process there in place of real local leaves. There are other tricks that yet some producers and farmers performs to the ends of imitating a Wudong production for higher prices. The fact is, although genuine Wudong fine productions are really supreme, some others within and even outside the greater Phoenix area can be very fine too. Even though their prices have gone up a couple of times since the last decade, they are still within reasonable limits, for their quality.
A fine classic style from high altitude, whether from Wudong or neighbouring apexes, has a distinct and slightly different “yan’yun” (i.e. note of the large rock, translate: character of high altitude grown; a special note of certain herbal/mineral character that is difficult to imitate because it harmonizes with the rest of the taste and aroma character; and it happens both in the mouth and as an aftertaste/aroma). That is more distinct than that of a fine Wuyi oolong or a fine Shengcha Puer. Although I only occasionally pay for what I drink daily, I sometimes would if I come upon a really outstanding one, regardless of its origin.
I buy directly from the producers or farmers whether for personal use or for trading. When you shop for one at the dealers or retailers, you should give much less weigh to claims of origin and pay emphasis on the taste. The fact is, every so often I find products not matching the claim (and the price) even at wholesalers. Whether they know what they are doing is a mystery, but I hate it when the endusers are not getting what they pay for.
This is a great tea to keep staying calm and awake especially for those who cannot use green tea which is TCM cold, or black tea which causes dampness (TCM term). Classic style Phoenix is relatively neutral, and therefore a great daily tea for most. <read: Health aspect of Phoenix oolongs>
However, it can be a strong tea to some people so if you have not much strong tea experience, increase your intake strength and quantity gradually and do not drink on an empty stomach. If you forget about this and over drink, you may experience dizziness or upset of the stomach. Have a bite of something to raise blood sugar and refrain from drinking that day. <read more about tea drunk>
If your tea experience is only beginning, a safe way to start experiencing this tea is to have one cup at just adequate strength for a half day, with a cookie or any little bit standing by.
On the other hand, if you are a veteran, this really is a worthwhile tea to spend time and efforts to explore and understand. Once you find a really fine selection, maybe you would begin to experience the kind of health change I had and keep it as one of your daily drinks.
TeaGuardian.com (Tea Guardian) is a self-financed, independent reference guide created with the initiative to promote the better understanding of tea, the daily beverage that so many have come to misunderstand. By sharing with the readers unbiased and in-depth information, we aim at empowering them with the ability to find and enjoy better quality tea for taste and for health. A lot of the information included can be helpful to people of the tea trade and the academics.
While we gladly receive any forms of support, including advertisements and other sponsorships, no such actions will in anyway affect our editorial direction or its independence.
This website is designed for smooth, non-obstructive reading. It is therefore recommended that it be viewed using modern browsers such as Opera, FireFox, Chrome or Safari. If you need to use IE, please update it to the latest version.