Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Sketch a Map in a Cup of Tea

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Travellers wonder how to reach Cold Mountain.

No road stretches so far; the streams end far below.
Summer ice darkens the grees.
Sunrise labours to burn off the mist.

How did a gray squat thing like me arrive?
I make my journey sitting still. 

- 寒山, Hanshan "Cold Mountain"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Gong Fu Feng Huang Dan Cong (Phoenix Single Bush), "honey" flavour • 功夫凤凰单枞

❧ Phoenix Oolong, 'Honey' flavour ❧

The first time I tasted Fenghuang Dan Cong, 凤凰单枞, at Kkikdageo (imo, the best tea shop in Korea!), I was amazed by the unique, intense flavour of the tea. Traditionally, Phoenix Oolong is described as having a honey-orchid flavour and is sometimes even called Phoenix Honey Orchid tea, but I also find that it carries the impression of lemon zest bitter over tones.

Kkikdageo's Phoenix Oolong comes from the 600 year old Song Jong, 宋種, trees that were found by a Song dynasty emperor growing on Phoenix Mountain. It is very difficult to find a better Phoenix Dancong. The leaves are between 60-70% fermented and are rolled long and pointy. The colour is very dark brown with reddish tinges. It's preferable to let the leaves age at least six months and are even better after a year or two.

After heating a teapot and dropping a heaping scoop of leaves in, an intense floral aroma comes wafting out from the pot, filling the space with a warm scent, like dried mango, citrus, and honey. I raise the open pot to my nose and take a slow, deep whiff. The overwhelming pleasure immediately stimulates craving, but I put the pot down, return the lid, and let leaves heat a little more, awakening the tea's essential oils.

The way Kkikdageo taught me to prepare Phoenix Dan Cong is with slightly cooler water than usual, about 70-80ºC, 21-27ºF. The temperature affects the balance between scent and taste. Hotter water tends the produce a stronger smell, but a little cooler water develops a deeper taste.

After rinsing the leaves with a quick dousing, I fill the pot once more and let it steep for just a few seconds. From the first steeping, the rich Phoenix leaves produce a strongly flavoured liquor. The colour is clear, bright yellow-brown and the scent is of warm, sharp sweetness, like lemon tart, deep and heavy. A strong, pleasant aftertaste paints the back of the throat as it goes down and the roof of the mouth and gums tingle. There is also a strong acidic sensation on the tongue. The second infusion is a little stronger and less sweet, and the third and fourth are much the same, and by the fifth infusion a slight saltiness appears on the back of the tongue during the aftertaste. The leaves are extremely durable and even after the eighth infusion, there is still strong flavour. But, eventually, the Phoenix takes flight, leaving a faint whiff in the breeze, and the leaves become an empty nest.

Even long after finishing this tea, the taste clings in the mouth, especially on the back of the tongue and in the throat, emerging unexpectedly, but pleasantly, throughout the day.

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