Today I'm finishing up my sample of Bitterleaf Tea's 2016 Spring production of a Ya Shi Xiang (Literally "Duck Shit Aroma") Dan Cong oolong tea. For the uninitiated, this type of tea does not smell or taste anything like shit, and thankfully this isn't some tea world equivalent of Kopi Luwak. In fact, this is a beautiful oolong tea that is void of any qualities resembling excrement, and is named for the location's soil appearance (or something like that).
Anyway, in my experience, I've found that Dan Cong oolongs can be teas of extreme, whether its a hyper-floral fruited feminine character, or a burly roasted masculine character, or a mouth puckering bitterness. What I've found in Bitterleaf's Ducktale is a balanced Dan Cong that indeed earns its "Top Shelf" designation with a gorgeous complex fragrance that's well grounded and well balanced.
The dry leaves are a near-black appearance, with only a few patches of green and brown that peak through. The scent is a wonderfuly charcoal roasty-toasty fragrance smothering a subtle sweet and light perfume. The floral character is familiar and gorgeous, and the light roast makes it more desirable by perhaps providing aromatic contrast.
Rinsed quickly, the leaves let off a nutty, toasty and sweet buttery roasted aroma, almost like grilled sweet corn. This is followed by a complex show of flowery and spicey fragrances (I literally said "holy shit" as I sniffed the gaiwan lid) that all meld together as the leaves cool into an incredibly unified aromatic complexity. This tea somehow balances the floral beauty, roasted depth, and burly spice aspects of the many different Dan Cong oolongs that I've experienced to date into a singular experience, successfully.
The first steep yields a very light golden liquor that has a surface aroma consistent with the rinsed, and steeped, leaves. The infusion has a wonderfully thick and slippery texture, and isn't bitter or astringent, though there is an expected slightly dry sensation that sets in with the atertaste. The flavor and retronasal experience consist of a soft fruity-sweet-floral note swirled together with both a buttery green oolong note (not dissimilar to a Taiwanese oolong) and charcoal roasted character (like a subtle yancha roasted quality).
Further steeps open up the beautiful leaf material, and also unravel the aromas, allowing you to pick them all apart as you progress through the steepings. This makes it a very interesting and intriguing tea, keeping you involved in the experience of the tea throughout.
All in all, this is a super solid, high quality Dan Cong that retains the show-stopping femine florals at a tastefully subtle level while showing off how attractive the spicier, more masculine aromas can be. But most importantly, this tea demonstrates the delicate balance needed to yield a "top shelf" Dan Cong.