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Guide to Dancong Part I: What is a Dancong?

By Dchew78 @peonyts

It is said that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

In the case of the definition of a Dancong, it may be more accurate to call it a misconception since I believe originally there was no intent to mislead, merely spreading ignorance. Nevertheless, this oft repeated misconception has somehow gained much credence.

The Common Misconception

For most of us, the de facto research source is often the infallible Wikipedia which has this to say about Dancong in its Oolong entry (which incidentally has more than just this inaccuracy):

“The name dan cong is often misinterpreted as meaning the tea is all picked from a single bush, grove, or clone. This is not correct. Dan cong is a botanical term that refers to the morphology of the tea plant. Most tea bushes emerge from the ground as a cluster of branches; however, the uncommon dan cong variety emerges as a single trunk that branches off higher up the stem.”

No citation whatsoever but this information has been repeated very often on the web that some have come to recognize it as the truth.

In fact, I am pretty sure earlier I have used ‘single trunk’ as the translation, if nothing else since it is commonly used. In my defense I would say I am not a botanist and I didn’t know ‘single trunk’ was a botanical term.

Common or otherwise that statement from Wikipedia is plainly untrue- as least insofar as it relates to Dancong. And the translation of ‘single trunk’ is inaccurate as well.

Etymology

Dancong (单丛) is made up of 2 Chinese words:

Guide to Dancong Part I: What is a Dancong?
Dan (单) pronounced as “done” is simple- single or singular.

Cong (丛) is a tad more complex. On its own, it means a collection of something such as grass patches are known as Cao Cong (草丛).

So a “singular collection” would be an oxy-moron.

However at a broader level, 丛 have been used in phrases as a synonym for 树 or tree such as丛林 which can be a synonym for树林 or forest.

Elsewhere in tea, 名丛 (ming cong) has been used in Wuyishan for the ‘famous firs’ of Wuyishan, namely Dahongpao, Baijiguan, Tieluohan and Shuijingui.

At the same time 老丛 (lao cong) is used to denote trees that are 50 years and above where the word 老 (lao) means old.

Hence, the most accurate translation for 丛 is ‘tree’.

Understanding Cong () aka Tree

What is means is that these are cultivated tree(s) that have unique characteristics apart from their species- a form of cultigens if you will.

Guide to Dancong Part I: What is a Dancong?
The difference between Dan Cong grown in Guangdong and the Wuyi Ming Cong- besides its various taste/aroma characteristics- is the size.

Dancong- especially older ones can grow to huge sizes- towering at 7-8 meters in height. This photo* shows a good gauge with several pickers using ladders to scale the trees.

*I will take down/credit this photo if source is provided- link on the photo is dead*

This is in contrast to most tea trees outside of Yunnan, Sichuan and the Phoenix mountains in Guangdong (which we will talk about later) which tend to be 1-2 meters in height.

As a side-note, the ‘single trunk’ theory is debunked as well since this would be considered ‘multi-trunk’.

What Dancong means?

Originally, Dancong means (单株采制) picked and produced from a single tree.

In the Phoenix Mountain area, not just any single tree will do but ‘reputable’ trees that have been specially nurtured.

This concept was especially prevalent from the 1950s onwards where after the tumultuous years of the Sino-Japanese wars and Chinese Civil war, some semblance of stability had begun to be restored.

From the 80s onwards though, through cloning and asexual propagation, many recognized varieties have been cloned for widespread production.

The definition of ‘Dancong’ has then widened to include teas made from leaves picked from the same clonal family.

For example, Mi Lan Xiang is a commonly cloned variety. It could be made from a single tree or multiple trees but they must be cloned from the same mother tree.

This widened definition made Dancong more commercially available. Even though the original old trees are huge, generally they produce less than 10 kg of tea a year.

While there are more than 100 types of recognized ‘mother trees’, they are generally classified into 10 main types according to their fragrance or ‘香型’ and that is a topic we will cover in the next post.

See here for other articles related to varieties of oolong tea

See more articles on overviews of various categories of tea


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